Hope Comes to Arizona Immigrants in Form of Federal Lawsuit

Hope Comes to Arizona Immigrants in Form of Federal Lawsuit

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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The news that the Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit today to challenge the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law was received with a sight of relief across immigrant communities in Arizona.

“I really feel that the Justice Department will be on the winning side of history. I feel strongly that this law is unconstitutional. The Justice Department is doing the job of defending U.S. citizens,” said Mary Rose Wilcox, a supervisor for District 5 in Maricopa County, Ariz. “I think when justice needs to be served, you should never look at political costs.”

The federal government joined five other lawsuits against SB 1070, the law that makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant, including two filed by police officers in Phoenix and Tucson, and another by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

All of the lawsuits challenge the constitutionality of the new law based on the idea that the state of Arizona is usurping the job of the federal government when it comes to enforcement. They also claim that the law will open the doors to racial profiling.

Griselda, an undocumented immigrant, jumped for joy when she heard the news.

“I’m happy because they filed the lawsuit. Thank God there’s another one in the fight,” she said. “It will be the most important.”

She believes that many immigrants who had been considering leaving the state will stay now, in hopes that the federal government will win an injunction.

“The Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of filing this lawsuit to defend the Constitution from attack. Our federal government will not allow a fragmentation of the union because of anti-immigrant hysteria,” said Chris Newman, general counsel and legal director for the National Day Laborers Network (NDLON), which filed a lawsuit with together with the ACLU and MALDEF. “We are confident federal courts will prevent this odious legislation from ever seeing the light of day."

Marcelo Quiñonez, a 26-year-old high school English teacher, described the move as “a monumental step” by the federal government to show other states that are trying to pass anti-immigrant legislation that they’re going down the wrong path.

“It’s also telling the nation as a whole that racism won’t be tolerated,” he said. “It’s a great victory for the immigrant community in Arizona.”

Alfredo Gutiérrez, a former democratic senator and editor of La Frontera Times, described his response to the lawsuit as “a real sense of relief.” He predicted that, as a result of federal involvement, SB 1070 “won’t go into effect and the judge would stop it.”

However, some political observers point out that the federal lawsuit could have a negative impact on the overall political climate of the country when it comes to immigration reform.

"It is disappointing to see the federal government choosing to intervene in a state statute instead of working with Arizona to create sustainable solutions to the illegal immigration issue that our state and country so desperately need," said Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard in a statement released today.

“I worry about the political consequences," added Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorksUSA, a non-profit that organizes the business sector around immigration reform. "I’d like the administration to make its views heard in another way."

Jacoby, who doesn’t support SB 1070, said it would have been better for the Department of Justice to file an amicus brief, a friends of the court opinion, in support of the current lawsuits.

“I think the president is dropping an atomic bomb on the senator he needs most to pass immigration reform, which is Jon Kyl,” she said, referring to the Arizona Republican senator.

Jacoby emphasized that this will energize the Tea Party movement to place immigration at the top of its priorities by pushing for candidates who oppose immigration reform.

Gutiérrez said that Jacoby might be right as far as the impact it may have in other states, but “in Arizona,” he said, “it can’t get worse.”

“It’s clear in Arizona it’s not about immigration,” he said. “It’s about your accent, where you come from. It’s about your culture.”