WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is still reviewing a possible challenge to the controversial Arizona immigration law, a spokesman said on Thursday, despite a statement last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that a lawsuit to challenge it would be pursued.
Clinton said in a television interview in Ecuador on June 8 that President Barack Obama had ordered the Justice Department to challenge the Arizona law because he did not believe states should set immigration policies, which could differ.
“President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy,” she said according to a transcript posted on the State Department website.
“And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act,” she told NTN24, which is headquartered in Colombia.
Both the White House and Justice Department declined to confirm or deny the presidential directive.
“The department continues to review the law,” said Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
A State Department spokesman did not try to retract Clinton’s remark and noted the issue had been a concern on her trip.
“I defer to the Department of Justice on what legal steps are available,” said spokesman P.J. Crowley. “The president and secretary have said clearly that the administration opposes the Arizona law.”
The Arizona law is an effort to stop the state from serving as a principal corridor for illegal immigrants to enter the country from Mexico, and from being a busy entry point for Mexican cartels smuggling drugs to a voracious U.S. market.
The law, set to take effect next month, would require officers to determine the immigration status of any person they suspect of being in the country illegally.
Critics, including top Obama administration officials, have said it could effectively permit racial profiling and may be unconstitutional.
REBUKE FROM ARIZONA GOVERNOR
The news of Clinton’s remarks drew a rebuke by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has been a proponent of the state law and met recently with Obama to discuss her concerns about border security.
“To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the Secretary of State is just outrageous,” she said in a statement. “If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation.”
Until Clinton’s remarks, officials had said only that they had concerns about the law and were looking at their options, which included a legal challenge. About 10.8 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the United States.
The fight over the law has jump-started efforts in Washington to pass a comprehensive reform bill to address illegal immigration. But it was unclear whether Congress would approve a law in a year when many face re-election bids.
Obama said last month he would seek an additional $500 million for border security and send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border. Brewer said in her statement she had yet to receive any information about those plans despite a pledge to provide it.
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