Arizona sues government on Mexico border security

PHOENIX Fri Feb 11, 2011 6:06am EST

A woman walks near the border fence between Mexico and the United States in Nogales, as a U.S. border patrol vehicle is parked on the U.S. side of the border January 7, 2011. REUTERS/Alonso Castillo

A woman walks near the border fence between Mexico and the United States in Nogales, as a U.S. border patrol vehicle is parked on the U.S. side of the border January 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Alonso Castillo

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that Washington has failed to secure the state's porous border with Mexico.

Gov. Jan Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne, both Republicans, told a news conference that they filed a counter suit against the government in federal court in Phoenix.

The suit is in response to a government lawsuit last year blocking key parts of the state's tough law cracking down on illegal immigrants.

"Because the federal government has failed to protect the citizens ... of Arizona, I am left with no other choice," Brewer told reporters at a news conference in central Phoenix, as several boisterous protesters attempted to shout her down.

"We did not want this fight. We did not start this fight. But, now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our border is secured and federal immigration laws are enforced," she added.

The desert state straddles a furiously trafficked corridor for human and drug smugglers from Mexico, and is the principal gateway for illegal immigrants entering the United States.

In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dismissed the suit as a "meritless court claim" that "does nothing to secure the border."

"Smart strategies, dedicated law enforcement personnel, and strategic partnerships with state, local, and tribal governments and agencies do," spokesman Matt Chandler said.

'RAMPANT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION'

The suit detailed five separate counts, including allegations that the government had failed to achieve "operational control" over the border, enforce immigration laws, and protect Arizona from "harms associated with rampant illegal immigration."

Brewer locked horns with the federal government last April, when she signed the state's controversial measure cracking down on illegal immigrants into law.

It provoked protests in Arizona and around the country, although opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans supported the law,

At the heart of the state law is the requirement that police determine the immigration status of a person they have detained and suspect of being in the country illegally.

But before it could take effect last July, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton blocked key parts of the state law, arguing immigration matters are the federal government's responsibility.

In November, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case. It has yet to issue a ruling.

Brewer said the state would most likely have to pursue its claims all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She added that legal costs were covered by donations from thousands of Americans, and that no state taxpayer funds had been spent in defending the law.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; editing by Greg McCune)

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