Justice Department officials say it's only a matter of when -- not if -- the federal government will sue Arizona over its new immigration law.
Justice Department lawyers have been working for weeks to draft their complaint, an effort that is not yet complete, officials say. Though the lawsuit will likely not be filed within the next several days, the government's goal is to go to court before the Arizona law takes effect in late July.
A comment earlier this month by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which came to light late this week, has caused a stir. Asked about the Arizona law in a June 8 television interview in Ecuador, Clinton said: "President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act."
Though her statement contradicted the Obama administration's public line -- that the issue of a lawsuit was "under review " -- it accurately captured what officials say is the virtually certain outcome. Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly expressed concern about the law, and he recently met with a group of police chiefs who oppose it.
Nonetheless, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said she was "stunned and angered" by Clinton's flat-out statement that a lawsuit is coming.
"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," she said in a statement from her office.