In the latest chapter of the Arizona adventure in immigration, the folks in the Obama administration have decided to challenge the law. The challenge is not that the law violates the rights of individuals but that it intrudes into the domain of the federal government.
The gist of the case was nicely summed up by Jeffrey Toobin’s analogy: if Arizona was invaded by Mexico, the state would not have the right to declare war-that is a power possessed only by the federal government. Likewise, immigration falls under the auspices of federal power and hence the state has overstepped in this manner. Toobin did, however, note that this matter is rather complex and the case is not entirely clear cut.
Using Toobin’s war analogy, it could be argued that while a state does not have the legal right to declare war, a state would have the right to defend its citizens. So, if Mexican troops rolled into Arizona, the governor could not (legally) declare war on Mexico. However, even if the federal government elected to do nothing, the authorities in Arizona would have the legal and moral right to defend the state using force.
In the case of the law in question, this could be seen as being less analogous to declaring war and more analogous to defending against an invasion (in this case, literally). As such, it could be argued that Arizona is acting well within its rights as a state.
From a political standpoint, the proponents of the law can point out that the federal government seems to be more concerned with imposing its power over a state than with providing meaningful immigration reform. Although most folks are ignorant of all the details of the law, it does seem to enjoy considerable popularity (deserved or not). As such, the lawsuit by the federal government might have some serious political ramifications come election time.
However, Obama and his folks are not fools and they stand to gain politically from this gambit. After all, the law is not very popular with Hispanics and they are the fastest growing segment of the population. They also tend to have a significant impact on certain elections. While the lawsuit will increase the support given by certain people (such as white conservatives) to those opposing the Democrats and Obama, it will probably result in more support for Obama and certain Democrats.
While this move does involve some risk, it does seem like a gamble worth taking for Obama. If he can use it to gain (and keep) Hispanic votes, this could nicely offset any losses he would sustain among other groups. Also, to state the obvious, many of the folks who would support the law are probably not inclined to vote for Obama and the Democrats in the first place.