WASHINGTON — Advocates from immigrant rights groups set the stage on Thursday for a major legal showdown in the federal courts over the constitutionality of the tough new Arizona immigration law.
In a news conference on the grounds of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, leaders from the groups pledged to file a “vigorous and sophisticated” challenge to the law.
“If this law were implemented, citizens would effectively have to carry ‘their papers’ at all times to avoid arrest,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona. “It is a low point in modern America when a state law requires police to demand documents from people on the street.”
Three legal challenges to the Arizona law have already been filed in federal court in Arizona, asking judges to block implementation of the statute and ultimately declare the measure unconstitutional.
- The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders filed a class action suit on Thursday on behalf of a group of citizens, legal residents, and illegal immigrants who say the law will devastate lives and businesses in Arizona’s Latino community.
- Tucson Police Officer Martin Escobar said in his suit, also filed Thursday, that there was no way to carry out the mandate of the Arizona law in a race-neutral way. He said the state statute compels law enforcement officials “to actively engage in racial profiling to detain, question, and require every Hispanic” to prove their legal status.
- A third lawsuit has been filed by Washington, D.C., resident and US citizen Roberto Javier Frisancho, who said he plans to visit Arizona in September to conduct research, but is now fearful of how he may be treated as a person of Hispanic heritage. The act “establishes a crime of being Hispanic,” he says in the suit.
The legal moves came as debate over the new measure continued to spread across the country.
Signs of protest and support
At the same time some Republican lawmakers are considering adopting similar get-tough immigration measures in their own states, and at least one poll, by Rasmussen, shows 55 percent of Americans support the tough Arizona law, while 36 percent oppose it.
At the center of the controversy is a 16-page bill signed into law last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) that makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona. The law also requires state and local law enforcement officials to verify a person’s immigration status whenever a “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”
Supporters say it is aimed at enforcing laws long-ago passed by Congress, but left largely unenforced by federal immigration officials.
“The reason Arizona passed this bill … is because the federal government wasn’t doing its job,” Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona said in a Fox News interview. “Arizona is just trying to do the things that the federal government failed to do. All we’ve done here is to put in law in Arizona what was already federal law.”
Another lawsuit planned
In addition to the Arizona ACLU, other immigrant rights groups planning a coordinated lawsuit are the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Immigration Law Center, and the national ACLU.
Also at Thursday’s press conference was singer Linda Ronstadt. “My family, of both German and Mexican heritage, has a long history in Arizona. It has been our diverse and shared history in this state that unites us and makes us stronger,” she said. “What Governor Brewer signed into law last week is a piece of legislation that threatens the very heart of this great state.”
Ms. Ronstadt added: “We must come together and stop [the new law] from pitting neighbor against neighbor to the detriment of all.”