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Arizona immigration law could lead to a second suit, Holder says

The attorney general says that if the state's tough law goes into effect, another suit could result if the U.S. believes racial profiling is taking place. The suit filed last week on constitutional issues could delay the law's implementation.

July 11, 2010|By Katherine Skiba, Tribune Washington Bureau

Washington — Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer, said Sunday 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 preempts 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 was 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," he 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 if 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.

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

In other news, Holder said a decision was pending on where -- and how -- to put alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others on trial. Opposition to Holder's plan to try them in New York City has officials searching for a new venue.

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.

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

Holder, asked if other places wanted the detainees, said there was interest from "a couple of other states" but 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, he said.

kskiba@tribune.com

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