Tensions mounting on Ariz. immigration law 

The White House is denying claims by an Arizona senator that President Obama hopes to leverage border security for Republican support on immigration reform.

At the same time, the administration remains mum on plans to mount a legal challenge to Arizona's tough new immigration law -- a likelihood confirmed last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"As far as we're concerned, that [Arizona] law is still under review," said deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, told supporters at a recent town hall meeting that Obama said to him privately that the problem with securing the border is that Republicans "won't have any reason to support" immigration reform.

"In other words, they're holding it hostage," Kyl said in a video of the event posted online.

Said Burton, "the president didn't say that [and] Senator Kyl knows that the president didn't say that."

Obama, who recently ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, has called for work to begin this year on drafting a path to citizenship and other measures aimed at overhauling immigration.

Republican leaders have said they do not want a divisive immigration debate in an election year.

The Kyl flare-up was the latest in a simmering immigration battle that appears headed to federal court.

In a round of interviews last week with South American news media, Clinton said Obama plans to sue over the Arizona law, which goes into effect next month. So far, the Justice Department has said only that the issue is under review.

"President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy," Clinton said in a television interview. "And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act."

The law requires immigrants to carry documents proving their status and requires police to determine the citizenship of those they detain for other crimes. Obama has called the law potentially discriminatory.

At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner declined to say whether Clinton misspoke.

"The secretary's words stand for themselves," he said, repeatedly.

Despite Obama's misgivings about the Arizona law, a recent poll underscores the tough political challenge of suing to block it -- since a majority of Democrats apparently support it.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 73 percent overall support requiring people to show documents verifying their legal status, and 67 percent support allowing police to verify legal status.

Support for the law was stronger among Republicans, with 86 percent supporting the documentation requirement, versus 65 percent of Democrats. On the issue of police verification, 81 percent of Republicans liked the policy, versus 55 percent of Democrats.

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, who met with Obama recently and vowed to fight the government in court, said she was not surprised by Clinton's remarks, although she called any talk of a lawsuit "outrageous."

"Our federal government should be using its legal resources to fight illegal immigration, not the law-abiding citizens of Arizona," she said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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