WASHINGTON — Hispanic leaders in the House of Representatives called Tuesday for President Barack Obama Tuesday to act against Arizona's anti-illegal immigration legislation and to throw his weight behind a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., demanded a halt to the bill that passed Arizona's Senate Monday. The state's House of Representatives passed it last week. If Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs it into law, the bill would require immigrants to carry alien registration cards with them at all times and police to check people's immigration status whenever there's "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally.
Grijalva and Gutierrez said that if Brewer, a Republican, signs the bill into law, the Obama administration should step in to stop it.
"The president of the United States should simply say, 'On the issue of immigration, the Constitution is clear, my power is clear — I'm going to regulate immigration in the United States from a federal level,'" Gutierrez said.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who appeared with the congressmen at a news conference, said that the Department of Homeland Security could end agreements that allow Arizona law enforcement to police immigration laws or the Justice Department could challenge the initiative as a violation of civil rights law.
An Obama administration official said the White House is reviewing the Arizona legislation.
Even without action from the White House, Saenz said the Arizona law would face challenges in federal court like those that ultimately brought down a similar initiative enacted in California in 1994. He said that the fund has already been contacted by potential clients in Arizona.
"Absolutely, there will be a legal challenge," Saenz said.
Gutierrez also blasted the president for failing to push for comprehensive immigration legislation. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., rolled out a framework in March, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told immigration advocates at an April 10 rally in Las Vegas that he'd make immigration a priority.
Gutierrez said there's a narrow window to introduce a bill in the Senate between Memorial Day and July 4, when he projected that the Senate will turn its attention to hearings for Obama's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
However, Gutierrez said Tuesday that he thinks the administration doesn't see an immigration overhaul as a priority.
In a written response, the White House pledged its commitment to moving an immigration bill forward this year and said it's been working closely with the Senate.
"Senator Schumer and Graham were both in the Oval Office last month talking with the president on how to move forward together, including strategies for securing additional Republican support," the statement said.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro also said via e-mail that Obama called Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., from Air Force One Tuesday to discuss immigration legislation.
(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)
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