Photos: Opponents of Arizona's new immigration enforcement law protest

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  1. Protesters rally at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Sunday, April 25, against a tough new state law targeting illegal immigrants. The law allows Arizona police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally. Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Members of Arizona's indigenous community protest the state's new immigration law outside the Capitol in Phoenix on Sunday. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. These were among the estimated 3,500 opponents of the law who turned out Sunday. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rosamaria Soto of Phoenix shouts at the rally Sunday in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks to protesters Saturday in Tucson, denouncing the new state immigration law. Grijalva, who shut his Tucson office the day before because of death threats, called for an economic boycott of Arizona because of the law, which he called racist. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. An undocumented immigrant from Mexico looks from his front door on Saturday in Tucson. He moved to Arizona with his family illegally 10 years ago to work in construction and has children born in the United States. Recovering from back surgery from a job injury, he says he fears that under the new law he could be stopped by police and be deported to Mexico, where he might have trouble getting necessary follow-up care. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/27/2010 12:45:35 AM ET 2010-04-27T04:45:35

The furor over Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants grew Monday as opponents used refried beans to smear swastikas on the state Capitol, civil rights leaders demanded a boycott of the state, and the Obama administration weighed a possible legal challenge.

Activists are planning a challenge of their own, hoping to block the law from taking effect by arguing that it encroaches on the federal government's authority to regulate immigration and violates people's constitutional rights by giving police too much power.

The measure — set to take effect in late July or early August — would make it a crime under state law to be in the U.S. illegally. It directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.

"If you look or sound foreign, you are going to be subjected to never-ending requests for police to confirm your identity and to confirm your citizenship," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which is exploring legal action.

Swastikas on windows
Employees at the Capitol came to work Monday to find that vandals had smeared swastikas on the windows. And protesters gathered for a second straight day to speak out against a law they say will lead to rampant racial profiling of anyone who looks Hispanic.

The White House would not rule out the possibility that the administration would take legal action against Arizona. President Barack Obama, who warned last week that the measure could lead to police abuses, asked the Justice Department to complete a review of the law's implications before deciding how to proceed.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the law is discriminatory and warned that trade and political ties with Arizona will be seriously strained by the crackdown.

Currently, many U.S. police departments do not ask about people's immigration status unless they have run afoul of the law in some other way. Many departments say stopping and questioning people will only discourage immigrants from cooperating to solve crimes.

Under the new Arizona law, immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. That is a significant escalation of the typical federal punishment for being here illegally — deportation.

Video: Sharpton vs. Arpaio People arrested by Arizona police would be turned over to federal immigration officers. Opponents said the federal government could thwart the law by refusing to accept them.

Supporters of the law said it is necessary to protect Arizonans from crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Arizona is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the nation's busiest gateway for people slipping into the country.

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Obama urged to fight law
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, called on Obama to fight the controversial law. He urged the federal government not to cooperate when illegal immigrants are picked up by local police if the tough new state immigration law survives legal challenges.

Grijalva and civil rights activists spoke on Sunday to thousands of people gathered at the state Capitol . Some promised to march in the streets and invite arrest by refusing to comply.

"We're going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we're going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law," Grijalva said.

Supporters have dismissed concerns about profiling, saying the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as the sole basis for an immigration check.

"If I go to another foreign country, if I go to Mexico, I have to have papers," said Bill Baker, 60, who took time off work at a downtown Phoenix restaurant to sell umbrellas and Mexican and American flags to the largely Hispanic crowd of protesters. "So I don't feel there's anything particularly harsh about the law."

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill on Friday, said Arizona must act because Washington has failed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico. Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion that someone is in the U.S. illegally.

‘We'd be 50 different countries’
The crux of opponents' arguments is that only the federal government has the authority to regulate immigration.

"If every state had its own laws, we wouldn't be one country; we'd be 50 different countries," said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California-Davis and an immigration law professor, said such a lawsuit would have a very good chance of success. He said the state law gets into legal trouble by giving local law enforcement officers the authority to enforce immigration laws.

"States can't give them that power," Johnson said. "The federal government could if it wanted to, but it hasn't."

However, Gerald Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, said Arizona could make a compelling legal argument that it has overlapping authority to protect its residents.

Johnson said opponents could also argue that the law could violate their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure because it gives police officers broad authority to determine who should be questioned.

Legal challenges anticipated

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the Arizona legislation, said he anticipated legal challenges and carefully drafted the language. He said the state law is only prohibiting conduct already illegal under federal law.

In a statement Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the state's new law would probably hinder law enforcement in dealing with more serious crimes. Napolitano vetoed similar proposals when she was Arizona governor.

"They would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve," she said.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera urged policymakers in the city to stop dealing with Arizona and Arizona businesses. Leaders in Mexico and California also demanded a boycott, as did civil rights leader Al Sharpton.

The law has strong public support in Arizona, where passions have been running high since a rancher was killed close to the Mexican border last month, apparently by drug smugglers from across the border.

Politics Daily's Andrew Cohen predicted that "in a few weeks, or maybe even a few days, the effect of the state law is likely to be stayed by the federal courts. And then the debate will go back to where it belongs, onto Capitol Hill and away from the courts, at least for the time being."

Gateway
Arizona's border with Mexico is the nation's busiest stretch for illegal border crossings. The state's harsh, remote desert serves as the gateway to the U.S. for thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans.

Video: Jobs for citizens?

The March 27 shooting death of rancher Rob Krentz on his property in southeastern Arizona brought illegal immigration and border security into greater focus in the state. Authorities believe Krentz was killed by an illegal border crosser.

But Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Arizona's Maricopa County, told NBC's TODAY that the new law wouldn't mean that police officers would "go on a street corner and grab people because they look like they're from another country."

He predicted the measure would mean that "more people will move" to Arizona.

"When we raid private businesses and arrest illegal aliens working there, with the majority with phony identification, we're making more job openings by getting rid of those that are here illegally," Arpaio added. "Maybe people here who are legal will be able to find a job. "

Arizona's U.S. Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain have announced a ten-point plan to boost border security , including sending the National Guard to help secure it, erecting fences and increasing funds for policing.

McCain, who lost the 2008 election to Obama, faces a tough primary challenge in his re-election bid from conservative J.D. Hayworth this year. Hayworth has called for tough enforcement of illegal immigration and tight security of the border.

Meanwhile at the state level, immigrant rights groups are promising to boost voter registration among Arizonans opposed to the law in a bid to defeat Brewer in November.

"Governor Brewer has to be held responsible for signing what is now an international shame on the state of Arizona," said Jennifer Allen, executive-director of Border Action Network, an immigrant rights group.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera urged policymakers in the city to stop dealing with Arizona and Arizona businesses. Leaders in Mexico and California also demanded a boycott, as did civil rights leader Al Sharpton.

During a town hall meeting Monday in Tucson, Brewer dismissed the threat of a boycott, saying she doesn't believe the law is "going to have the kind of economic impact that some people think it might," the Arizona Daily Star reported. She added that outrage over the ability of police to ask people for citizenship documentation will fade.

The law has strong public support in Arizona, where passions have been running high since a rancher was killed close to the Mexican border last month, apparently by drug smugglers from across the border.

The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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