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Feds might sue twice over Arizona immigration law

| Monday, July 12, 2010

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer, said yesterday that he might sue Arizona a second time if he finds its tough-on-illegal-immigrants law leads to racial profiling.

Holder, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," said the federal government's lawsuit against Arizona, filed last week, makes scant mention of racial profiling because a stronger argument against the law is that it pre-empts the federal government's responsibility in deciding immigration policies.

The law requires law enforcement officers with a suspicion that a person is not a legal resident to ask questions and take the person into custody if the person cannot prove he or she is a legal resident.

The measure is to take effect July 29, but the legal challenge casts that in doubt.

Holder said the federal government has to take a variety of factors, including international relations and national security, into account when drawing up immigration laws.

"And it is the responsibility of the federal government, as opposed to states doing it on a patchwork basis," the attorney general said.

"It doesn't mean that if the law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had" and determine whether there had been racial profiling, Holder said. "And if that was the case, we would have the tools, and we would bring suit on that basis."

Holder, in answer to a question, denied suing Arizona for political reasons so as to brand Republicans as "anti-immigrant" or "anti-Hispanic."

"Not true at all," he replied.

The basis for the suit was a legal determination that the law was "inconsistent with the Constitution," he said.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who defends the state immigration law as constitutional, said federal officials would have included racial profiling in the suit if they thought it was an issue.

"Why would they have to hesitate after all the comments they made and all the outrage that they made against the bill in regards to racial profiling, that it didn't show up?" Brewer said during a break in the National Governors Association meeting in Boston.

The governor said she is confident the state law can be enforced without racial profiling, which she acknowledged is against state and federal laws.

"The bottom line is that people in the Southwest, particularly Arizona, we love our diversity. It's in our DNA. We are almost, I believe, colorblind," Brewer said. "It's just not in us. We've grown up, we've lived next door, we work together, we eat together. I mean, it's so different than the issues they always want to relate to the South, you know, in regards to the civil rights issues down there."

In other news, Holder said a decision was pending on where and how to put alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other terror suspects on trial. Opposition to the attorney general's plan to try them in New York City has officials searching for a new venue.

Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, has proclaimed his involvement in the Sept. 11 plot and has said he wants to plead guilty and be executed, achieving what he views as martyrdom.

Holder said a military base in Virginia was one of "any number of possibilities," but there are "real questions" as to whether a defendant who pleads guilty in a military tribunal may be sentenced to death.

Holder said the Obama administration is working through issues about a site for the proceedings, taking into account the need for Congress to approve funding and trying to address concerns expressed by local officials.

"As soon as we can" resolve those issues, "we will make a decision as to where that trial will occur," Holder said.

He said "the politicization of this issue, when we're dealing with ultimate national security issues, is something that disturbs me a great deal."

He also said the Obama administration still wants to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba — as it pledged to do within a year but still has not — but that it requires congressional support for the money needed to buy an underutilized prison in Thomson, Ill., and house the detainees in a portion of that facility.

Asked if other places wanted the detainees, Holder said there was interest from "a couple of other states," but he refused to name them.

"I don't want to necessarily talk about them now because I think we have a very firm commitment from the people in Thomson and from state officials in Illinois" to accept the terrorism suspects from Guantanamo, Holder said.

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