Legal action over Arizona's immigration law

Angry protests, boycott calls and lawsuits challenge state law that targets illegals

Illegal immigrants believed to be living in the United States at the start of last year.

Estimated undocumented immigrants in Arizona, total population 6.6 million, at start of last year.

Anger mounted yesterday over an Arizona measure cracking down on illegal immigration as a police officer sued to challenge it, Governors in Texas and Colorado weighed in to oppose such a law in their own states, and activists in Chicago chanted for a boycott outside a baseball game.

The lawsuit from 15-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar was one of two filed yesterday, less than a week after Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill critics claim is unconstitutional and fear will lead to racial profiling.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal Government may challenge the law, which requires local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, and which makes it a state crime to be in the US illegally.

Brewer and other backers say the state law is necessary amid the federal Government's failure to secure the border and growing anxiety over crime related to illegal immigration.

Escobar, an overnight patrol officer in a Latino area of Tucson, argued there was no way for officers to confirm people's immigration status without impeding investigations, and that the new law violated constitutional rights. Tucson police said Escobar acted on his own, and not on the department's behalf.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders also sued yesterday, and sought an injunction preventing authorities from enforcing the law. The group argued that federal law pre-empts state regulation of national borders, and Arizona's law violates due process rights by letting police detain suspected illegal immigrants before they're convicted.

"Mexican-Americans are not going to take this lying down," singer Linda Ronstadt, a Tucson resident, said at a news conference on another lawsuit planned by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defence and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Centre. At least three Arizona cities - Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson - are considering legal action.

In Flagstaff, police investigated a threatening email sent to members of the city council over their opposition to the law. The author said council members should be "arrested, tried in court, found guilty of treason and hanged from the nearest tree".

About 40 immigrant rights activists gathered outside Wrigley Field in Chicago as the Cubs played the Arizona Diamondbacks. A plane toting a banner criticising the law circled the stadium. The Mexico-based World Boxing Council said it would not schedule any bouts featuring Mexican fighters in Arizona, to protest what it called the state's "shameful, inhuman and discriminatory" immigration law.

The law sparked others to weigh in, from politicians to entertainers:

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, said he would veto a new law like the one in Arizona, weighing in after Republican candidates to replace him said they would support such a law. "That is not within the spirit of our law," Ritter said.

In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry said such a law would be wrong for his state to adopt, citing a Texas tradition of rejecting harsh anti-immigrant policies. "I fully recognise and support a state's right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas," Perry said.

In California, the state Assembly passed a resolution urging the federal Government to fix the immigration system. The resolution, which was in the works before Arizona's law was passed, advanced on a party-line vote, with majority Democrats supporting it.

Colombian singer Shakira visited Phoenix to meet the city's police chief and mayor amid her concern, her spokesman said, "about the impact of this law on hardworking Latino families".

At the Billboard Latin Music Awards ceremony in Puerto Rico, singer Ricky Martin denounced the law, saying it "makes no sense".

Supporters of the new law also were vocal outside Arizona.

A group of conservative state politicians in Oklahoma said they planned to introduce a bill similar to Arizona's. In Texas, Representative Debbie Riddle, a Republican, said she would introduce a measure similar to the Arizona law in the January legislative session. And Republicans running for governor in Colorado and Minnesota expressed support for the crackdown.

- AP

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