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Lawsuits target new Arizona immigration law

Anger mounts over an Arizona measure cracking down on illegal immigration as a police officer sues to challenge it and activists in Chicago call for a boycott.
Image: Border of US and Mexico
Customs and Border Patrol agents line the international border in Nogales, Ariz. on April 22. Matt York / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Anger mounted Thursday 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 an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

The lawsuit from 15-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar was one of two filed Thursday, less than a week after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill that makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.

U.S. 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.

Critics claim the law is unconstitutional and fear it will lead to racial profiling, while Brewer and other backers say the state law is necessary amid the federal government's failure to secure the border.

State lawmakers OK changes
While divisive debate over the law swirled nationwide, Arizona lawmakers approved several changes, including one that would strengthen restrictions in the law on using race or ethnicity as the basis for police questioning. The law's sponsor, Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, characterized those possible changes as clarifications "just to take away the silly arguments and the games."

In filing his suit against the law, Escobar, an overnight patrol officer in a heavily Latino area of Tucson, argued that there's no way for officers to confirm a person's immigration status without impeding investigations, and that the new law violates constitutional rights.

Tucson police spokesman Sgt. Fabian Pacheco said Escobar acted on his own in suing, and not on the department's behalf.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders also sued Thursday and sought an injunction preventing authorities from enforcing the law. The group argue 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 native, said at a state Capitol news conference on another lawsuit planned by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center.

In Mexico City, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard announced he would try to join lawsuits seeking to overturn the law, with a statement from his office calling the measure "a planned Apartheid against Mexicans."

Ebrard did not explain what legal standing the Mexican capital would have before U.S. courts, but said the issue could be taken to international human rights forums.

Meanwhile, officials in El Salvador, which has about 2.8 million citizens living in the United States, urged Salvadorans to avoid traveling to Arizona, according to the Foreign Ministry. In Nicaragua, officials called on the Organization of American States and the United Nations "to take the necessary measures to safeguard the rights of the Hispanic population."

At least three Arizona cities — Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson — are considering legal action to block the law. In Flagstaff, police investigated a threatening e-mail 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 Thursday outside Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs opened a four-game series against the Diamondbacks. A small plane toting a banner criticizing the law circled the stadium.

Activist George Lieu said a letter was sent to Cubs management asking the team to stop holding spring training in Arizona.

A Cubs spokesman declined to comment. Arizona manager A.J. Hinch says the team is there to play baseball.

The Mexico-based World Boxing Council said it will not schedule any bouts featuring Mexican fighters in Arizona, to protest what it called the state's "shameful, inhuman and discriminatory" immigration law.

Families going elsewhere for university
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, a campus-wide e-mail from school President Robert Shelton said families of several out-of-state honor students have notified the university that they will enroll their children elsewhere.

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

  • Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat who is leaving office next year, said he would veto a new law like the one in Arizona, weighing in after GOP 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 Gov. 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 recognize 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, too, saying it "makes no sense."
  • In Mexico, the governor of the border state of Chihuahua announced Thursday he will not attend the annual Border Governor's Conference, scheduled for early September in Phoenix. Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza said his administration has already urged Chihuahua residents to avoid traveling to Arizona.

Supporters of the new law also were vocal outside the state.

A group of conservative state lawmakers in Oklahoma said they plan to introduce a bill similar to Arizona's. In Texas, Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican, said she will 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.