Valeria Fernández, New America Media
PHOENIX, Ariz.--Civil rights group denounced Gov. Jan Brewer’s announcement that her state will counter-sue the federal government for not enforcing immigration laws. The called it a political move and criticized Brewer’s incendiary rhetoric.
Brewer’s action come in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Obama administration challenging the constitutionality of SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration statute requiring people to carry papers showing that they are legally in the United States. Brewer said that Arizona cannot enforce immigration laws because doing so is the purview of the federal government.
One of the toughest immigration bills in the nation, SB1070 would have made it a state crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona. But a federal judge has blocked portions of the law from going into effect.
Newly elected Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said that federal law preempts state actions, barring Arizona from defending its border. “And yet they are not doing their job in defending the border, and that’s precisely what this counter-claim is,” he stated.
The U.S. Justice Department did not comment on the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
Groups such as the Border Action Network and National Immigration Forum (NIF), however, criticized Brewer for engaging in incendiary rhetoric towards illegal immigration and filing a frivolous lawsuit.
They especially took issue with the governor referring to the problem of illegal immigration in the state as an “invasion” against which the federal government has failed to protect its citizens.
NIF Executive Director Ali Noorani said in a statement that the countersuit is “a cheap political stunt and a waste of time.” He called Brewer’s choice of words “particularly inflammatory in a state that needs not more rhetorical gasoline.”
Previously, Brewer was sharply criticized for making unconfirmed claims that there are headless bodies in the desert as a result of violence spilling from the drug war in Mexico.
During Thursday’s press conference Brewer cited examples of the growing violence along the United states-Mexico border, such as the shooting death last December of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, who was killed in Nogales by bandits. She also mentioned the unsolved murder of rancher Robert Krentz in Douglas, Ariz.
"Arizona did not want this fight, we did not start this fight," Brewer said. "But now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our borders are secure."
Carlos Galindo, a local activist and radio commentator questioned why Brewer wasn’t addressing the murder of Mexican-American Juan Varela, labeled a hate crime in connection with SB 1070, and the shooting of nine-year-old Bricenia Flores and her father, allegedly by a member of the Minutemen group.
Brewer ignored Galindo and moved to another reporter, who repeated the question.
“We in Arizona are very concerned about the violence that is taking place because of the drugs cartels and the human smuggling and the criminal behavior,” she responded. “It’s happening to illegal immigrants, it’s happening to legal citizens and we want it stopped.”
Attorney General Horne told New America Media that complaints that Arizona immigration enforcement and laws are leading to a hostile climate towards Latinos are unfounded.
“I’m hoping to probe that enforcing the law does not create an environment of hate towards any race or group,” Horne said, referring to SB 1070.
The Arizona countersuit makes several claims against the federal government: That it has failed to gain “operational control of the border,” as required under the Secure Fence Act of 2006; has failed to protect Arizona from economic costs and violence associated with illegal immigration; has not reimbursed $760 million in costs for incarcerating undocumented immigrants; and has fought Arizona in its constitutional attempt to protect its citizens.
Horne wants a federal judge to hold the Obama administration liable for not enforcing the law and to award the state financial restitution for the costs incurred.
Jaime Farrat, policy director for the Border Action Network in Tucson, said Brewer has exaggerated claims that crime is up in Arizona, when FBI statistics show that crime has decreased.
“The violence they talk about in Mexico is not taking place here in Arizona or in any part of the border. Facts show that what she claims is not happening,” he said.
The problem, Farrat added, is not that the federal government is failing to enforce immigration laws; the issue is the way the feds have been doing so.
Jennifer Allen, Border Action Network’s executive director, said: “The reality is one of unprecedented resources dedicated to the border and record drops in apprehension rates and in people crossing the border illegally.”
Allen asserted, “To gain ‘operational control’ of the border, we need the federal government to fix our broken immigration system so that people can use the system rather than go around it.”
State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, emphasized that the lawsuit would distract from resolving the state’s economic woes. Currently, Arizona faces an estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit.
“I think it would be irresponsible to move forward on litigation that she is seeking money for, that she is seeking media for and that apparently has no legal merit,” Sinema said.
Brewer created a legal defense fund to finance litigation against SB 1070. So far she has collected more than $3.7 million in private donations and intends to use some of that funding to support the counter-claim without using taxpayer money.
Civil rights attorney Daniel Ortega said he doubted the countersuit would be legally successful, but he conceded that it was a brilliant political move to give Brewer’s voter-base the impression that she is active on the issue.
Ortega said that at the end of the day, if such a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices “won’t allow for different states to come up with their own laws and enforcement of immigration. We need a uniform system.”