In an unusual White House attack on state legislation, President Barack Obama harshly criticized an Arizona measure to crack down on illegal immigration and made clear Friday that he is looking for an election-year fight over the volatile issue.
Hours later, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the nation's toughest immigration law, making illegal immigration a state crime and requiring police to question people about their immigration status if officers suspect they are in the U.S. illegally.
Brewer, a Republican, said the state action was forced by Washington's failure to secure the U.S. borders and solve the nation's thorny illegal immigration problem. "Decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation," she said.
The president said it was the state that was "misguided" and that the Arizona measure would "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."
Obama said he instructed the Justice Department to "examine the civil rights and other implications" of the new law. Justice officials said they were considering their options, and it wasn't clear Friday what they might do. Regardless, the law seemed certain to be challenged in court by opponents.
Among the constitutional questions raised by the law, according to current and former government officials and legal experts, are provisions that may violate protections against unreasonable searches, for example, by asking police to stop people solely to prove their immigration status.
Arizona and other states allow police to check immigration status if a person is under investigation for another crime.
The president's comments, delivered during a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony for members of the armed forces, was a forceful sign that Obama planned to push the immigration issue before the November elections, responding to frustration among Hispanic voters and their advocates over inaction.