A battle is brewing between the federal government and our communities over illegal immigration, and the field of play is far from fair. Because the federal government has failed to secure our borders, state and local governments are acting in good faith to protect our communities by passing local immigration laws. The federal government is now challenging Arizona's immigration law in court. Such lawsuits are unfair to state and local governments because the federal government has virtually limitless resources.
Litigation comes with a huge financial burden for cities and states. As a former City Council member, County Commissioner, Mayor and Governor, I know the chilling effect this can have on local decisions. Having served in the President's Cabinet, I also know that if the federal government flexes its muscle or sues communities--or even threatens to sue--it can be daunting. Even if the Justice Department doesn't think it can win a suit, it can simply overwhelm local governments with lawyers and litigation.
That's why I introduced a bill that levels the playing field by requiring the federal government to cover the cost if it sues and the local immigration law is upheld. It sends a message to the Justice Department that if they want to take these communities to court, they must make sure their reasons are pure and based in law.
The federal government should be a friend to the states, cities, and citizens of our country, not an adversary. In suing these communities, the federal government is trying to send a warning to prevent other communities from taking action on illegal immigration.
The Administration is claiming federal preemption--that the federal government has sole jurisdiction over immigration law. Yet, even the Administration's own policies agree that the the feds should give careful consideration when deciding whether to use federal preemption. A May 2009 memo penned by the President says, "Preemption of State law by executive departments and agencies should be taken only with full consideration of legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption... Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our Federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values."
Despite this extremely high threshold, the Administration is suing Arizona because of its immigration law, and I'm worried the courtroom will be used as a national stage to scare others from considering similar laws. Rather than wasting its time suing our communities, the federal government should instead see the passage of local immigration laws as a wakeup call signaling that more robust border security and enforcement are needed at the national level. Until that time, my bill would ensure our state and local governments have a level playing field when facing-off against the vast resources of the federal government.