A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday over whether Arizona's new immigration crackdown should take effect later this month, marking the first major hearing in one of seven challenges to the strict law.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton also will consider arguments over Gov. Jan Brewer's request to dismiss the challenge filed by Phoenix police Officer David Salgado and the statewide nonprofit group Chicanos Por La Causa.
The judge said last week she wasn't making any promises on whether she will rule on the officer's request to block enforcement of the law before it takes effect July 29. Hearings on the six other lawsuits, including one filed by the federal government, are set for next week.
The law requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime for immigrants to not carry immigration documents.
Supporters say the law was needed because the federal government hasn't adequately confronted illegal immigration in Arizona, the busiest illegal gateway for immigrants into the United States. Opponents say the law would lead to racial profiling and distract from police officers' traditional roles in combating crimes in their communities.
Security was heavy at Phoenix's federal courthouse Thursday, with officers checking those lined up to get into court and others deployed around the courthouse. At least five police dogs were present, their handlers carrying mirrors to check under vehicles for suspicious packages.
Only a pair of protesters were at the court before it opened, although many others were expected before the hearing's 10 a.m. start. One carried a sign saying "illegal is illegal."
Since Brewer signed the measure into law April 23, it has inspired rallies in Arizona and elsewhere by advocates on both sides of the immigration debate. Some opponents have advocated a tourism boycott of Arizona.
It also led an unknown number of illegal immigrants to leave Arizona for other American states or their home countries and prompted the Obama administration to file a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law.
Salgado's attorneys argue the judge should block the law before it takes effect because it would require an officer to use race as a primary factor in enforcing the law and because the state law is trumped by federal immigration law.
His lawyers also say the Phoenix Police Department is planning to enforce the new law, even though federal authorities haven't authorized all Phoenix officers to enforce federal immigration law.
Attorneys for Brewer asked that the officer's lawsuit be thrown out because Salgado doesn't allege a real threat of harm from enforcing the new law and instead bases his claim on speculation. They also said the state law prohibits racial profiling and that it isn't trumped by federal immigration law because it doesn't attempt to regulate the conditions under which people can enter and leave the country.
The other challenges to the law were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, civil rights organizations, clergy groups, a researcher from Washington and a Tucson police officer.
Bolton plans to hold similar hearings July 22 in the lawsuits filed by the federal government and civil rights groups.
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