Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces plans to countersue the federal...

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces plans to countersue the federal government for failing to enforce immigration laws. (Feb. 10, 2011) Credit: AP

Gov. Jan Brewer sued the federal government Thursday for failing to control Arizona’s border with Mexico and enforce immigration laws, and for sticking the state with huge costs associated with jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

The lawsuit claims the federal government has failed to protect Arizona from an "invasion" of illegal immigrants. It seeks increased reimbursements and extra safeguards, such as additional border fences.

Brewer’s court filing serves as a countersuit in the federal government’s legal challenge to Arizona’s new enforcement immigration law. The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to invalidate the law.

“Because the federal government has failed to protect the citizens of Arizona, I am left with no other choice,” Brewer said as sign-carrying protesters yelled chants at her and at other champions of the immigration law.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler declined to comment on the filing. But a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of policing the country’s borders, called Brewer’s lawsuit a meritless action and said Border Patrol staffing is higher than ever.

“Not only do actions like this ignore all of the statistical evidence, they also belittle the significant progress that our men and women in uniform have made to protect this border and the people who live alongside it," spokesman Matthew Chandler said. "We welcome any state and local government or law enforcement agency to join with us to address the remaining challenges."

Brewer’s lawsuit seeks a court order that would require the federal government to take extra steps to protect Arizona — such as more border fences — until the border is controlled. Brewer also asks for additional border agents and technology along the state’s border with Mexico.

The governor isn’t seeking a lump-sum award, but rather asks for policy changes in the way the federal government reimburses states for the costs of jailing illegal immigrants who are convicted of state crimes. Such changes would give the state more reimbursement.

Arizona’s enforcement law was passed amid years of complaints that the federal government hasn’t done enough to lessen the state’s role as the nation’s busiest illegal entry point. Its passage ignited protests over whether the law would lead to racial profiling, and prompted lawsuits by the Justice Department, civil rights groups and other opponents seeking to have it thrown out.

The law would have required police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if officers had reasonable suspicion the person was in the country illegally. That requirement was put on hold by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, along with a mandate that immigrants obtain or carry immigration registration papers.

The judge, however, let other parts of the law take effect, such as a provision that bans people from blocking traffic while seeking or offering day-labor services on streets.

Brewer challenged Bolton’s decision in an appeals court in San Francisco. She argued the judge erred by accepting speculation by the federal government that the law might burden legal immigrants, and by concluding the federal government likely would prevail. Brewer’s appeal is still pending.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, one of the lawyers defending the law on behalf of the state, said Arizona bears staggering costs from illegal immigration, yet the federal government maintains the state is prevented from assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Horne said Washington has failed to protect the state against an invasion by illegal immigrants.

"The word ’invasion’ does not necessarily mean invasion of one country by another country," Horne said. "It can mean large numbers of illegal immigrants from various countries."

The governor’s filing hammers on the issue of the state’s unreimbursed costs for jailed illegal immigrants. Brewer’s predecessor, Janet Napolitano, who is now the Homeland Security secretary, regularly sent the Justice Department invoices seeking such reimbursement when she was governor.

The lawsuit doesn’t say exactly how much reimbursement money the state is seeking. Instead, it asks the court to interpret the criteria on which the reimbursements are based, which the state believes will ensure it gets more funding.

Brewer’s filing noted Arizona’s latest annual reimbursement from the federal government totaled nearly $10 million and the state had to eat an additional $125 million.

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, an opponent of the law, said Brewer’s filing was intended to draw attention from the state’s budget woes. Sinema noted the federal government has hired 8,000 new Border Patrol agents and added hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

"The state will be hard-pressed to show that we have been denied any promised benefit," Sinema said.

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