Republican governors defend Arizona law, without defending its constitutionality

Jon Ward Contributor
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Conservative governors of states along the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday declined to argue that Arizona’s recently passed immigration law is constitutional, though they expressed support on the grounds that the federal government has failed to act.

“It’s OK for states to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enforce the laws, and I think that’s what Arizona is trying to do,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is a leading candidate to be the Republican party’s presidential nominee in 2012.

“I think what you’re seeing here is a frustration by Arizona, an understandable frustration, that their concerns haven’t been addressed by the federal government,” Pawlenty said in an interview with The Daily Caller after participating in a meeting with other governors at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“As to the constitutionality of it, that will be decided by the courts shortly,” he said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, was vigorous in condemning the federal government’s lack of action on securing the border over the last several years, blaming the Obama administration, the Bush administration and the Congress.

Perry said he has been asking for the federal government to do more – particularly to position aerial drones along the border – since 2005. The response from the Federal Aviation Administration, and from the rest of the federal government on all other border enforcement issues, has been “stunningly slow,” he said.

“This is slower than getting the governor’s mansion refurbished back in Texas,” Perry said.

Perry, who is something of a firebrand, did not answer the question directly when asked if the Arizona law is unconstitutional. He focused his answer on the federal government’s “abject failure” to secure the border but did not address the specific legal question.

“Do your job,” Perry said, addressing the federal government. “Don’t force us to be taking action.”

Perry indicated that it would be counterproductive if each state took matters into its own hands.

“That last thing we need is 50 different immigration policies,” Perry said.

President Obama has said the Arizona law – which gives state and local law enforcement officers the ability to ask for proof of citizenship or lawful presence in the country after they have pulled someone over or apprehended someone they suspect of breaking the law – is “misguided.” He has asked the Justice Department to examine legal challenges.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has said he suspects the law is unconstitutional.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said there is no doubt in his mind that the bill violates the Constitution, which sets out in Article 1, Section 8 that Congress has the power “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”

“I don’t think the law is constitutional. I think the Obama administration should challenge it,” Richardson told The Daily Caller.

But Richardson also, during the Chamber of Commerce event, said that “every state has a right to do what they want.”

Asked to clarify, he said: “What I meant was states need to act, and we’re independent, we’re sovereign. It doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want.”

“Just because [the federal government is] not acting doesn’t mean they don’t have jurisdiction. And I think they’re acting. They’re not, like, not doing anything. We’ve had dramatic increases in border patrol and National Guard and technology but it’s obviously not enough.”

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