Homeland Security announces Ariz. immigration enforcement cutback

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s deputies announced Monday they are further reducing immigration enforcement in Arizona.

The surprise announcement came shortly after the Supreme Court decided that Arizona has the constitutional right to quiz suspected illegal immigrants about their legal right to be in the country.

“This isn’t an end-run [around the Supreme Court], this is a complete disregard of the constitutional process,” said Horace Cooper, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research. The court authorized Arizona’s actions, and the administration is going out of its way to frustrate those actions, he said.

“This is a direct rejection of the idea that our constitutional system set the Supreme Court up to answer these kind questions,” he said.

“If they’re doing less [with Arizona] than they would do with other other states, that’s not legitimate,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a libertarian advocacy group.

Congress will push back hard, and the Supreme Court may hold a special session before the election to show its opposition to the administration’s “reckless and lawless” policy, Cooper predicted.

“I do think the public will be outraged to hear that this president thinks he is above the responsibility of implementing the law,” he said.

The administration’s resistance to court-approved parts of the immigration law was described by two administration officials during an early afternoon June 25 press conference.

Obama declined to take questions on his controversial new policy. Instead, he embarked on Air Force One to conduct a two-day, four-state campaign trip that includes several speeches and seven fundraisers.

His two deputies — who declined to speak on the record during the phone conference — said that top officials at the Department of Homeland Security had already taken action.

They had issued new directives to law enforcement officers, and will schedule new training sessions, to ensure that officers disregard illegal immigrants that haven’t been convicted of a felony or hadn’t proven to be a recent border-crosser, they said.

The officials also announced their cancellation of long-standing legal agreements — dubbed 287(g) agreements — with seven Arizona law enforcement agencies. Those agreements allow many states’ officials to ask federal officials to pick up illegal immigrants held in state jails.

In its June 25 decision, the Supreme Court specifically allowed Arizona law enforcement officials to request federal officials to check the residency of people who are stopped for traffic offenses or who have been arrested. The court approved this power even though Latino lobbies, progressives groups and the administration opposed the process.

The information will be provided only “if we are operationally capable,” said one administration official.

However, even though Arizona may seek residency information for additional people during the next few months, “we feel that [federal] staffing in Arizona is sufficient,” he said.

Moreover, federal agencies — such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — will not send agents to Arizona jails to pick up and deport illegal immigrants unless they also know the illegal immigrants have been previously found guilty of a felony, or are known to have recently crossed the border, the official said.

“We are not anticipating in-person” support for pick-ups, said the official.

“We want to make sure ICE does not take action” unless the detained illegal is a felon or a recent border-crosser, said the official.

The official also said that an illegal immigrant held for traffic violations would not be picked up for deportation.

When asked if Arizona will be forced to release illegal immigrants once the federal government refuses to pick them up, the officials declined to respond. “Only the federal government may enforce the law,” said one official, citing the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision.

The pick-up of non-felons would not “make sense” because of the agency’s limited resources, he said.

On June 15, Obama directed DHS to devote immigration-enforcement resources to the task of issuing work permits to at least 800,000 illegal immigrants, despite the nation’s record unemployment. (SEE ALSO: High court rejects parts of Arizona immigration law, upholds most controversial section)

That task may consume much resources, partly because many applicants may file false claims about their eligibility for the de facto amnesty, and may also provide forged documents that conceal criminal records and their ineligibility.

White House officials “are pushing this imperial presidency well past anything we’ve seen,” said Cooper. “This isn’t Nixonian — this goes well past that.”

“It is clear that they are bucking both popular opinion and the ruling of the highest court, whether they are doing it within the law, or bending the law to do it,” said Levey.

At the midday press conference, officials accepted questions from establishment media and Spanish-language media outlets, but none of the questions asked about the legality of the new measure, or their impact on American workers.

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