WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the federal government may go to court to challenge Arizona's new law which makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also voiced reservations about the new state law, saying it could siphon federal money and staff from hunting down dangerous immigrants.
The critical comments by the nation's top law enforcement official and the Cabinet secretary responsible for enforcing immigration laws came four days after Arizona's governor signed a law designed to crack down on illegal aliens.
Arizona's new law is, "I fear, subject to potential abuse," Holder told a news conference. The law allows police to question anyone about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect they are in the country illegally, and makes it a state crime if they are.
"I am very concerned about the wedge that it could draw between communities that law enforcement is supposed to serve and those of us in law enforcement," Holder added.
The Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department are reviewing the state law, which takes effect in late July or early August, 90 days after the Arizona Legislature adjourns.
A number of options are under consideration including "the possibility of a court challenge," the attorney general said in response to questions on the Arizona law posed during a news conference on another topic.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Napolitano said the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement fears it will have to use its stretched resources to deal with those arrested under Arizona's new law.
"We have some deep concerns with the law .. it will detract from and siphon resources that we need to concentrate on those in the country illegally, those who have committed the most serious crimes," Napolitano said.
President Barack Obama has instructed the Justice Department to examine the Arizona law that he said last week threatens to "undermine basic notions of fairness." He also is pressing anew for national immigration legislation, saying, "If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country."
Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report.