President Obama used a naturalization ceremony in the Rose Garden to lash out at the Arizona Legislature for passing a bill requiring proof of legal status and empowering state and local police to stop people based on a suspicion of being illegal immigrants.
Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform and said Washington's failure to act has bred a climate of fear and retribution in some border states. He singled out the Arizona bill - which would make it crime to be in the state without documentation - now before Republican Gov. Janice Brewer. The governor has until Saturday to decide whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.
"Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level
will only open the door to irresponsibility by others," Obama said. "That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."
Obama said the administration will "closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs later explained the Justice Department will monitor "potential civil rights violations" experienced by legal residents.
When asked to explain whose rights would be violated, Gibbs said:
"Somebody that gets stopped who is legal resident, is a citizen. It's clear that in the law, if you're suspected to be (illegal) the law allows you to be stopped. You may be a citizen. That's what he's asked the Justice Department to look into, again, if it becomes law."
Asked about next steps, Gibbs said: "Once this becomes law, if it does, the president has asked them (Justice Department lawyers) to evaluate that...it doesn't make sense to get ahead of that evaluation. I think it's pretty safe to say from the president's remarks he's not supportive of the law."
Gibbs said the law would allow police to question legal residents based on the suspicion they could be in the country illegally.