Obama may move to undo Arizona immigration law 

Arizona's tough new immigration laws may prompt the White House to intervene, potentially igniting a divisive election-year battle.

President Obama has spoken in favor of a comprehensive immigration plan, but so far has put forth no policy guidelines or proposals, hoping instead that Congress would take the lead as in the early days of health care reform.

But pressure from immigration reform advocates and the seriousness of Arizona's new law may force Obama to act. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department may pursue legal action.

"I'm very concerned about the wedge that [the new law] could drive between communities that law enforcement is supposed to serve and those of us in law enforcement," Holder said at a news conference.

Arizona's new law directs police to investigate the immigration status of any individual they come into contact with who they suspect is in the country illegally.

The new law, which has touched off protests in other states, has been criticized as a potential civil rights violation and raised concern that other states could start enacting a national patchwork of inconsistent immigration laws.

Indicative of the intensifying rhetoric surrounding the issue, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Los Angeles compared the Arizona law to Nazism.

Politically, the Arizona case creates trouble for both parties. Obama had hoped to use support for immigration reform to draw Hispanic support to Democrats in November.

But legal action against Arizona would take the matter to a whole other level, setting up a massive fight over immigration, states' rights and more.

Republicans have sought to stay clear of an immigration debate, and the Arizona law may force them to choose sides in a matter that can't do much to help them politically.

"It's not a great time to take this issue up in Washington," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Underscoring the party's tough spot, one-time immigration reform supporter Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., facing a tough primary battle to hold on to his seat, spoke in support of his state's new law and criticized Obama for failing to do enough on immigration.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat facing his own tough re-election battle, has signaled he plans to push forward with immigration reform -- also potentially setting up a showdown on the issue in the Senate.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute office at the New York University School of Law, said the Arizona case throws a "fireball" into the debate that could actually help the White House.

"In an odd way you can see the Arizona law provides the way for the White House to be seen on the side of immigration groups and the Hispanic base," Chishti said. "It forces them to get involved" without going to Congress.

Obama has criticized the Arizona law as "misguided" and directed the Justice and Homeland Security departments to investigate.

Holder said he is "looking at the law to decide exactly how we are going to react to it," adding, "We are considering all possibilities, including the possibility of a court challenge."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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