While the Obama administration continues its apology tour in China and uses the Arizona immigration-enforcement law as fodder for some bowing and scraping, the Department of Justice may need to scrape some egg off of its face. Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that he hadn’t actually read the bill before criticizing it, but it turns out that he needs to catch up on reading at the DoJ, too. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration has yet to withdraw a Bush-era memo that acknowledges the authority of states to do exactly what the Arizona law mandates:
In the legal battle over Arizona’s new immigration law, an ironic subtext has emerged: whether a Bush-era legal opinion complicates a potential Obama administration lawsuit against Arizona.
The document, written in 2002 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, concluded that state police officers have “inherent power” to arrest undocumented immigrants for violating federal law. …
The author of the Arizona law — which has drawn strong opposition from top Obama administration officials — has cited the authority granted in the 2002 memo as a basis for the legislation. The Obama administration has not withdrawn the memo, and some backers of the Arizona law said Monday that because it remains in place, a Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona would be awkward at best.
“The Justice Department’s official position as of now is that local law enforcement has the inherent authority to enforce federal immigration law,” said Robert Driscoll, a former Justice Department Civil Rights Division official in the George W. Bush administration who represents an Arizona sheriff known for aggressive immigration enforcement. “How can you blame someone for exercising authority that the department says they have?”
Barack Obama has been in office for sixteen months. Eric Holder has been AG for almost as long, being one of the first Cabinet members confirmed by the Senate after Obama assumed office. During the transition, both men promised to “hit the ground running,” which should have meant a review of policy positions across the board. Immigration reform was a key agenda item for Obama and the Democrats — and yet no one at the DoJ or the White House apparently thought to withdraw this memo. That speaks volumes about competence.
One reason the memo remains in place is because it’s just common sense. The federal government works with state and local authorities to enforce federal law in other areas, especially on drugs, for example. The same applies to immigration violations when police already have detained a person for probable cause on another potential crime, as the law (now) stipulates. Unless we’re prepared to fund a massive federal police agency with officers in every town in America, the federal government needs to have state and local authorities helping to enforce federal laws — even the laws that the Obama administration doesn’t want to enforce. Especially those laws.
What else has escaped the reading list of the Obama administration? For a collection of self-described geniuses, they seem particularly incurious readers regarding laws and policy papers.