Civil rights advocates vowed Saturday to challenge Arizona's tough new law targeting illegal immigration, saying it will lead to racial profiling of Hispanics despite the governor's assurance abuses won't be tolerated.
Republican 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.
The law requires police to question people about their immigration status - including asking for identification - if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. It's sparked fears among legal immigrants and U.S. citizens that they'll be hassled by police just because they look Hispanic.
Opponents of the law lingered at the state Capitol Saturday morning. Others gathered in Tucson outside the campaign headquarters of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who this week called on businesses and groups looking for convention and meeting locations to boycott Arizona. Grijalva said his staff was flooded with phone calls this week, some from people threatening violent acts and shouting racial slurs.
Never miss a local story.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association announced it would move its September conference from Scottsdale, Ariz., to another state.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the state Capitol Friday shouting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses. But Brewer said critics were "overreacting."
"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.
Current law in Arizona and most states doesn't require police to ask about the immigration status of those they encounter, and many police departments prohibit officers from inquiring out of fear immigrants won't cooperate in other investigations.
The new law makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. 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.
It also allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws and toughens restrictions on hiring illegal immigrants for day labor and knowingly transporting 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 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 Brewer to veto the law.