Immigration advocacy groups to challenge Arizona law

By Jonathan J. Cooper and Paul Davenport
Sunday, April 25, 2010

PHOENIX -- Arizona's governor is vowing that the state's tough new law targeting illegal immigration will be implemented with no tolerance for racial profiling, but at least two advocacy groups are preparing legal challenges and Mexico is warning that the law could affect cross-border relations.

Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on Friday signed into law a bill that supporters said would take handcuffs off police in dealing with illegal immigration in Arizona, the nation's busiest gateway for human and drug smuggling from Mexico and home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants.

The law requires police to question people about their immigration status -- including asking for identification -- if they suspect that someone is in the country illegally. It has sparked fears among legal immigrants and U.S. citizens that they will be hassled by police because they look Hispanic.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said it plans to challenge the law, which it said "launches Arizona into a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions."

William Sanchez, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders Legal Defense Fund, said his group is preparing a federal lawsuit against Arizona to stop the law from being applied. The group represents 30,000 evangelical churches nationwide, including 300 Latino pastors in Arizona.

"Millions of Latinos around the country are shocked," Sanchez said.

Current law in Arizona and most other states does not require police to inquire about immigration status, and many police departments prohibit officers from asking out of fear of losing immigrants' cooperation in other investigations.

Brewer ordered the state's law enforcement licensing agency to develop a training course on how to implement the law without violating civil rights. "We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent or social status," she said. "We must prove the alarmists and the cynics wrong."

The measure will take effect in July or August, depending on when the legislative session ends.

Immigrants unable to provide documentation of legal presence could be arrested, jailed for as long as six months and fined $2,500. Legal immigrants will be required to carry paperwork proving their status.

The law also allows suits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws and toughens restrictions on hiring illegal immigrants and knowingly transporting them.

"It's going to change our lives," said Emilio Almodovar, a 13-year-old U.S. citizen from Phoenix. "We can't walk to school anymore. We can't be in the streets anymore without the [police] thinking we're illegal immigrants."

Mexico warned that the law could affect cross-border relations, with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa saying her country would have to "consider whether the cooperation agreements that have been developed with Arizona are viable and useful." Francisco Loureiro, an immigration activist who runs a shelter in Nogales, Mexico, called the measure "racist" and said it would lead to additional police abuses.

"Police in Arizona already treat migrants worse than animals," he said. "There is already a hunt for migrants, and now it will be open season under the cover of a law." Loureiro said about 250 deported immigrants have been arriving nightly at his shelter and that most say they were detained by police.

After signing the legislation, Brewer said critics were "overreacting" and vowed not to tolerate racial profiling.

"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act," she said. "But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."

-- Associated Press

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