With lawsuit, Arizona tries to stare down Obama on illegal immigration

Arizona is suing the federal government, saying the Obama administration has failed to uphold its duty to prevent rampant illegal immigration. It's Arizona's latest bid to undercut federal authority.

Matt York/AP
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces plans Thursday in Phoenix to counter sue the federal government for failing to enforce immigration laws.

The lawsuit filed by Arizona against the federal government Thursday has little chance of legal success, an expert says. But that might not be the point.

Arizona has been at the forefront of an effort to undercut Washington's authority over border and immigration issues since it passed Senate Bill 1070, the law – now in legal limbo – that would have made law-enforcement officials check the documents of people who might be illegal immigrants.

With this lawsuit, Arizona appears to be trying to up the ante, using whatever means available to try to chip away at federal authority – or at least bully Washington into taking up border and immigration reforms.

“The current administration in Arizona, the governor, and the state Legislature seem to be engaged in a big battle with the federal government to try to declare some level of independence from federal control,” says Paul Bender, a constitutional scholar at Arizona State University.

Arizona's charges

Gov. Jan Brewer (R) says the federal government has failed to control the Arizona border with Mexico and protect Arizona from an “invasion” of illegal immigrants. The suit asks that the federal government allow it to enforce immigration laws. It also seeks completion of 700 miles of fence along the border and proper reimbursement of state expenses incurred in relation to jailed illegal immigrants – which Governor Brewer says stands at more than $760 million.

"We did not want this fight, we did not start this fight," Gov. Jan Brewer says, referring to the Obama administration's decision last year to challenge SB 1070 in court. "But now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our border is secure and federal immigration laws are enforced."

Getting the Obama administration to give in to Arizona’s demands is highly improbable, says Professor Bender. “The chances of them getting any money out of the federal government or getting any judge to order the federal government to do anything that they want them to do I think are very, very small."

He called ludicrous the state’s claims that Arizona is experiencing an invasion. “It’s clear that the word ‘invasion’ does not refer to what’s happening now, however you describe the immigration problem.”

Facts in dispute

The suit came just two days after US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin on a visit here released data to show that the Southwest border is becoming more secure, not less.

Mr. Bersin offered as proof numbers showing that border patrol arrests dropped from 616,000 to 212,000 between 2000 and 2010, and he highlighted the increase in manpower – 20,700 agents, more than double the number from 2004.

In filing the suit, Arizona lawmakers “ignore all of the statistical evidence, they also belittle the significant progress that our men and women in uniform have made to protect this border and the people who live alongside it,” says Matthew Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

“A meritless court claim such as this does nothing to secure the border,” Mr. Chandler notes in an e-mail.

As for SB 1070, a judge put some of the most controversial provisions of the state law on hold. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the Arizona appeal.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.