PHOENIX – Arizona's governor vows the state's tough new law targeting illegal immigration will be implemented with no tolerance for racial profiling, but at least two advocacy groups were preparing legal challenges and Mexico has warned that the law could affect cross-border relations.
Gov. Jan Brewer 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.
With hundreds of protesters outside the state Capitol shouting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses, Brewer said critics were "overreacting" and that she wouldn't tolerate racial profiling.
"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act," Brewer said after signing the law. "But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."
Earlier Friday, President Barack Obama called the Arizona bill "misguided" and instructed the Justice Department to examine it to see if it's legal. He also said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level — or leave the door open to "irresponsibility by others."
"That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten 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 law makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants; allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws; and makes it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said it plans a legal challenge to 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.
Brewer ordered the state's law enforcement licensing agency to develop a training course on how to implement it without violating civil rights. The bill will take effect in late July or early August, depending on when the current legislative session ends.
"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."
Many of the demonstrators at the Capitol complex booed when Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox she announced that "the governor did not listen to our prayers."
"It's going to change our lives," said Emilio Almodovar, a 13-year-old American citizen from Phoenix. "We can't walk to school any more. We can't be in the streets anymore without the pigs thinking we're illegal immigrants."
Mexico warned the proposal 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, a pro-migrant activist who runs a migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, called the new law "racist" and said it would lead to more police abuse of migrants.
"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 migrants have been arriving at his shelter every night and that most tell him they were detained by police.
On Thursday, Mexico's Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the law.
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