PHOENIX — Justice Department officials told Arizona's attorney general and aides to the governor Friday that the federal government has serious reservations about the state's new immigration law. They responded that a lawsuit against the state isn't the answer.
"I told them we need solutions from Washington, not more lawsuits," said Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat.
The Justice Department initiated separate meetings by phone and face-to-face in Phoenix with Goddard and aides to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to reach out to Arizona's leaders and elicit information from state officials regarding the Obama administration's concerns about the new law.
The strong message that the Justice Department representatives delivered at the private meetings — first with Goddard, then with Brewer's staff — left little doubt that the Obama administration is prepared to go to court if necessary in a bid to block the new law, which takes effect July 29.
Goddard said he noted that five privately filed lawsuits already are pending in federal court to challenge the law.
"Every possible argument is being briefed," said Goddard, who is running unopposed for his party's nomination for the governor's race.
Brewer, who is seeking re-election, later said in a statement that her legal team told the Justice Department officials that the law would be "vigorously defended all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary."
The department officials, Brewer said, "were advised that I believe the federal government should use its legal resources to fight illegal immigration, not the state of Arizona."
Key provisions of the sweeping law include a requirement that police enforcing any other law question people about their immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the people are in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants, and the law's supporters contend it will save taxpayer money and reduce crime by pressuring illegal immigrants to "self-deport."
Federal officials and other critics fear the state law could lead to widespread racial profiling.