Lawsuits target Arizona law amid calls for boycotts
Associated Press Writers
Vail, CO Colorado
PHOENIX – Backlash against a new Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration is broadening beyond the political arena as opponents file lawsuits, entertainers and other countries denounce the measure and protesters chant for a boycott of the state at an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game in Chicago.
A lawsuit from 15-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar was one of three filed Thursday, less than a week after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill that critics claim is unconstitutional and fear will lead to racial profiling.
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, and makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.
Brewer and other backers say the state law is necessary because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border and growing anxiety over crime related to illegal immigration.
But chances the federal government will take up immigration reform seemed slim. President Barack Obama, who has called the Arizona law misguided, said lawmakers may lack the “appetite” in a tough re-election year.
“I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem,” Obama told reporters Wednesday night aboard Air Force One.
Entertainers entered the fray Thursday, with Colombian singer Shakira visiting Phoenix to meet the city’s police chief and mayor amid her concerns the measure would violate human and civil rights.
“It goes against all human dignity.” she said of the law.
“Mexican-Americans are not going to take this lying down,” singer Linda Ronstadt, a Tucson native, said at a news conference on a lawsuit planned by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center.
And at the Billboard Latin Music Awards ceremony in Puerto Rico, singer Ricky Martin denounced the law, saying it “makes no sense.”
About 40 immigrant rights activists gathered outside Wrigley Field in Chicago Thursday, chanting “Boycott Arizona” as the Cubs open a four-game series against the Diamondbacks. A small plane toting a banner criticizing the law circled the stadium. A Cubs spokesman declined to comment, while Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said the team was there to play baseball.
While debate over the law swirled nationwide, Arizona lawmakers Thursday approved modifications to the law. The changes include strengthening restrictions against using race or ethnicity as the basis for questioning by police and specifying that possible violations of local civil ordinances can trigger questioning on immigration status.
The law’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, characterized those changes as clarifications “just to take away the silly arguments and the games, the dishonesty that’s been played.”
In Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched his latest crime and immigration sweep Thursday, arresting 60 people, with 39 suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Arpaio, whose tough crackdowns have made him a hero in the anti-illegal immigration community, has conducted 14 of the sweeps since 2008. Critics allege Arpaio’s deputies racially profiled Hispanics during the sweeps, but Arpaio says people were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes. Arpaio has lauded the new law, saying it gives him new authority to detain undocumented migrants who aren’t accused of committing any other crimes.
Some Latin American nations also entered the debate.
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.”
Officials in El Salvador urged people 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.”
The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders also sued Thursday, and sought an injunction preventing authorities from enforcing the law. The group argued that federal law pre-empts state regulation of national borders, and that Arizona’s law violates due process rights by letting police detain suspected illegal immigrants before they’re convicted.
In his lawsuit, Escobar, the Tucson police officer, argued he’ll be sued whether he enforces the law or not, either for violating civil rights or for refusing to enforce it.Tucson police said Escobar acted on his own.
At least three Arizona cities – Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson – are considering legal action to block the law.
Politicians from around the country also weighed in. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said he would veto a new law like the one in Arizona, while Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry said such a law would be wrong for his state because it has a tradition of rejecting harsh anti-immigrant policies.
Supporters of the new law also were vocal outside Arizona.
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.
Associated Press writers Mark Carlson and Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this report.