Florida election officials responded late Wednesday to a Department of Justice warning to quit purging suspected non-citizens from state voter rolls with an unapologetic explanation and no agreement to stop.

The letter Florida sent to the Justice Department met a deadline set by the federal government late last month, but will likely trigger an extended legal battle between the state and federal governments and advocacy organizations. Florida's response cited a medley of laws governing voting and used language strikingly similar to that of conservative advocacy groups claiming widespread voter fraud threatens the integrity of national elections.

If the U.S. blocks the purge, the federal government may be in violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, Florida told the Justice Department. Non-citizen votes would dilute the votes of citizens, the letter claimed. "Presumably eligible voters in Florida have the right to bring a lawsuit in federal court to test whether their votes are being unconstitutionally denied by the federal government," if the purge isn't allowed, Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote in the letter.

The Justice Department, the nation’s top law enforcement agency and voting rights watchdog, issued a two-line statement that said it was "reviewing the letter." Justice Department officials declined to elaborate.

The Justice Department in a May 31 letter warned Florida that efforts to identify and purge suspected non-citizens from voter rolls violate the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act.

In his response, Detzner said the purge has already received the kind of permission required by a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act covering counties with a history of minority voter suppression. In addition, the state blamed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for its delay of the purge and its breach of a federal law banning voter purges within 90 days of a federal election. The state said it awaited access to a federal database of naturalized citizens and argued it shouldn't be held to the law now because it would not be able to strike illegal voters until after the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.

Florida’s response to the U.S. also defended warning letters that election officials sent to suspected non-citizens, telling them it's against the law for ineligible people to vote. The law doesn't prevent such letters, Florida said, and doesn't bar the state from checking whether these people vote in November. The state also challenged the Justice Department to answer questions about access to the Homeland Security database.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) ordered the purge of alleged non-citizens and continued to defend it in interviews this week.

The state has identified as many as 182,000 suspected non-citizens on the voter rolls. County level election officials sent letters to nearly 3,000 of these voters demanding proof of citizenship within 30 days or face removal from voter rolls. The letters also warn that casting a ballot when ineligible is a felony. Many voters identified by the state as suspected non-citizens are legal immigrants.

Hundreds of of those legal residents have since come forward to object. And some county elections officials –- Republicans and Democrats -- have openly criticized the state list’s accuracy.

Groups agreeing with the state said purging suspected non-citizens is the best way to prevent voter fraud and prevent Democrats from gaining an unfair edge in November.

“The Democrats want illegal aliens to be able to vote because they want the election to be decided in favor of the president," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative research and advocacy organization threatening legal action if 12 states, including Florida, fail to clean up voter rolls. “It’s just extraordinary to have the sitting president attacking states trying to further federal law in the interest of ensuring the integrity of the elections.”

Groups defending voting rights of poor and minority voters said Florida appears determined to suppress minority voters.

”Unfortunately, the governor has not learned the lessons from the 2000 election, when thousands of eligible voters were purged from the rolls as a result of bad data matching and denied their right to vote,” said Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Election Legal Network, in a statement.

“Florida’s refusal to adhere to federal law and cease purging citizens from their rolls shows that the state’s reckless disregard for the rights of all Americans,” said Penda Hair, a director of the Advancement Project, one of at least two voting rights advocacy organizations threatening to sue Florida. “The right for all citizens to participate in their government is the cornerstone of our democracy. For states to cheat Americans of this right for what appears to be partisan gain is shameful.”

Last week, after the Justice Department warned Florida to stop the purge, the ‪Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections‬ recommended members stop participating in the purge. All but one Florida county election official is a member of the association.

“I think there are far too many questions here about the process and the accuracy of that list to continue forward with the purge," said Ron Labasky, the association’s general counsel. "We’ve done everything that we can to make that clear to our members.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents coastal district that includes Palm Beach and Broward counties and is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the state's continued defiance "is politics at its worst."

"Stripping the right to vote from United States citizens is the real threat to the integrity of our elections," Deutch said.

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TAKE A LOOK AT LEADING LATINO POLITICIANS IN THE U.S.
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  • Susana Martinez

    Susana Martinez was the first U.S. Latina governor when she was elected governor of New Mexico in 2010. She is a Republican and the first woman to be the state's governor. Martinez, of Mexican descent, was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She was district attorney for the Third Judicial District in Doña Ana County in Southern New Mexico, a position she held for 14 years. Controversy has followed Martinez. First, it erupted when she claimed that her <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/09/09/new-mexico-gov-susana-martinez-confirms-that-grandparents-were-undocumented/" target="_hplink">grandparents first came into the country illegally. </a> She later clarified her family's past stating that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/susana-martinez-new-mexico-governor-clarifies-immigrant-past_n_1093443.html" target="_hplink">her grandparents followed common practices in coming to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1900s. </a> The second controversy came with <a href="http://hispanic.cc/new_mexico_republican_governor_martinez_attacks_law_allowing_undocumented_to_obtain_drivers_licenses.htm" target="_hplink">her proposal to revoke a New Mexico state law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.</a>

  • Marco Rubio

    Marco Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 to represent Florida. He was born in Miami and is the son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio was accused of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/25/will-marco-rubio-lie-matter-as-much-as-politics_n_1031147.html" target="_hplink">embellishing crucial details about his parents' emigration from Cuba. </a> News has been circulating of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-schneider/psssst-marco-rubio-will-b_b_940308.html" target="_hplink">a possible Republican nomination for vice president</a> in the 2012 election. Rubio told the GOP to tone down its hard-edged stance on immigration. <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/11/15/rubio-tells-gop-to-ease-up-on-immigration/#ixzz1doct52kh" target="_hplink">According to Fox News Latino,</a> Rubio said, "The Republican Party should not be labeled as the anti-illegal immigration party. Republicans need to be the pro-legal immigration party."

  • Brian Sandoval

    Brian Sandoval was appointed U.S. district judge for Nevada by President George W. Bush in October 2005, becoming the state's first Hispanic federal judge. Sandoval is an American citizen of Mexican descent. He is currently Nevada governor. Earlier this year, Sandoval said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/brian-sandoval-endorses-rick-perry_n_961090.html" target="_hplink">he was backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential bid</a>.

  • Ted Cruz

    Texas Republican Ted Cruz is the first Hispanic to hold the post of Solicitor General for the state of Texas. He won a runoff election against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in July 2012, and is now the GOP candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat, has served since 1993 as representative for Illinois's 4th Congressional District. Gutierrez was born in Chicago and his parents are from Puerto Rico. He has been at forefront of every single immigration reform and immigrant rights defense struggle since 1993, <a href="http://lavoz-prcc.org/2009/04/congressman-luis-v-gutierrez-the-mastery-of-the-politics-of-making-the-impossible-possible/" target="_hplink">according to La Voz del Paseo Boricua. </a> Gutierrez has been outspoken against current deportation laws. In July, he and 10 other immigration reform supporters were arrested in front of the White House for protesting against the Obama administration's deportation of young people and families, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/26/luis-gutierrez-arrested-f_n_910348.html" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost. </a> He was arrested in mid-1990s for protesting the U.S. Navy's bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and in 2010 for protesting against the Obama administration's deportation record.

  • Luis Fortuño

    Luis Fortuño is the governor of Puerto Rico and president of the New Progressive Party, the political party seeking U.S. statehood for the island. In 2012, Fortuño has been an active campaigner for Mitt Romney, even being listed as a potential Vice President candidate on the GOP ticket.

  • Bill Richardson

    Bill Richardson served as governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2010. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as energy secretary in the Clinton administration. Richardson was born in California to an American father and a Mexican mother. Even after ending his term in 2010, Richardson remains an active political figure. In September 2011, Richardson visited Cuba to negotiate the release of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009 after bringing communications equipment into the island. Richardson came back emptyhanded, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/28/wife-man-imprisoned-in-cuba_n_1117742.html" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost. </a>

  • Alex Padilla

    Alex Padilla is a Democratic senator representing California. He is the first Latino and youngest-ever president of the League of California Cities, <a href="http://powerwall.msnbc.msn.com/politics/10-latino-politicians-to-watch-9701.gallery?#!wallState=0__%2Fpolitics%2F10-latino-politicians-to-watch-9701.gallery?photoId%3D38975" target="_hplink">according to PowerWall at MSNBC.</a> He is a Los Angeles native and son of Mexican immigrants. Padilla introduced a bill in the Senate that authorized $104 million in tax breaks to help "green" companies in California when buying equipment. The bill also aimed to add jobs.

  • Ken Salazar and John Salazar

    John and Ken Salazar, both Democrats, have identified themselves as Mexican-American brothers. Ken Salazar is the U.S. secretary of the interio. John Salazar was congressman for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, serving from 2005 until 2011.

  • Gloria Molina

    Gloria Molina is a Los Angeles County supervisor. Molina was born in California to Mexican parents. She was elected to represent the First District in 1991 -- the first Latina to do so. She quickly developed a reputation as a fiscal guardian committed to achieving good government reforms, maintaining the county's public health care system, and addressing quality of life issues -- particularly for the 1 million residents in unincorporated areas, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gloria-molina" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost.</a> After LA County jail abuse incidents, Molina made several recommendations including <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/la-county-jail-abuse-boar_n_1018683.html" target="_hplink">asking to install cameras in the jails, barring deputies from striking inmates' heads, and banning the heavy flashlights deputies carry that can be used as batons.</a>

  • Julian Castro

    Julian Castro is the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. First elected May 9, 2009, Castro won re-election in 2011 with nearly 82 percent of the vote. "Julián Castro is the son of Rosie Castro, a well-known '70s firebrand who was among the leaders of La Raza Unida, the radical movement in Texas that was dedicated to defending the civil rights of Mexican-Americans and promoting a strong "Chicano" identity", according to <em>The New York Times</em>. "Julin really stands out," said Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicano and global studies at UCLA,<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09Mayor-t.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"> to <em>The New York Times</em>.</a> "There are other talented young Hispanic politicians around, but few have his stature or national potential. He's from San Antonio, but he's very much admired in California. He's like Obama -- one of us, but someone who also comes out of a broader American experience."


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