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Immigrants' Rights Groups: Lawsuits Against Arizona Just the Beginning of Long Campaign for Justice

Activists argue that the Feds' lawsuit is only the first step to minimizing the harmful impact of unfair enforcement practices.

The decision by the Department of Justice to sue Arizona over its harsh immigration legislation is expected to block implementation of the law, but immigrant rights activists argue that this is only the first step to minimizing the harmful impact of unfair enforcement practices.

Under Arizona's SB 1070 law, police officers are allowed to question anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant - signed into law in April 2010, it instructs any immigrant to "at all times carry with him ... any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him" and has earned Arizona the nickname of the "show me your papers" state.

The complaint,  filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a federal court in Phoenix, calls for an injunction on the grounds that the Arizona law violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which says oversight of immigration enforcement is solely the prerogative of the federal government.

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"Although a state may adopt regulations that have an indirect or incidental effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with federal immigration law," said the DOJ's request for an injunction. "The State of Arizona has crossed this constitutional line."

In a statement released shortly after the DOJ announcement, the Immigration Policy Center said: "While we applaud the administration's decision to challenge the constitutionality of the Arizona law, we urge it to also look inward and correct other policies and programs that confuse the relationship between federal and state authority to enforce immigration laws."

This sentiment was echoed in interviews Truthout conducted with representatives from No More Deaths, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the Arizona Advocacy Network and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

Danielle Alvarado, a spokesperson for No More Deaths, which works to provide humanitarian aid to migrants, said, while the DOJ lawsuit was a first step, SB 1070 was only "a symptom of the anti-immigrant sentiment. It is not just about one piece of legislation."

Alvarado said her organization and others plan to continue a planned mobilization in Arizona on July 29, the day SB 1070 was planned to take effect, to protest "the fact that we're living in a state where those types of laws are passed in the first place."

According to the Immigration Policy Center, "the Department of Justice should rescind an Office of Legal Counsel memo issued in 2002 which opened the door for greater state action by reaching the, politically motivated, decision that states had inherent authority to enforce immigration laws. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security should rescind the 287(g) agreement in Maricopa County, Arizona where it has become clear that the agreement is being abused."

Under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the federal government can enter into immigration agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies. Eight agencies in Arizona have already signed agreements with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which allows them the authority to "verify or ascertain an alien's immigration status." Maricopa County, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is particularly infamous for its treatment of immigrants.

Under SB 1070, the state's officers would need to use federal immigration databases provided by the DHS to assess immigration status, which critics such as the AFL-CIO say could mean "the federal government will be complicit in the racial profiling that lies at the heart of the Arizona law."

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