Arizona Immigration Law Generates First Challenges The first legal suits have been filed against Arizona's tough new immigration law. Latino and other groups say the measure is unconstitutional, and law enforcement officials are taking sides. A Phoenix-area sheriff supports the law, while his counterpart in Tucson's Pima County, near the Mexican border, says enforcing it will drain local resources.
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Arizona Immigration Law Generates First Challenges

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Arizona Immigration Law Generates First Challenges

Arizona Immigration Law Generates First Challenges

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Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renees in Boise, Idaho this morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to check in next on a single state law that reignited a debate. Arizonas law is just a week old but it's already generated lawsuits, boycotts and some action in Congress.

Senate Democrats yesterday unveiled a proposal to revamp federal immigration laws. We'll hear about that in a moment.

We start in the state that has ordered legal immigrants to carry their papers at all times. Law enforcement officials are taking sides for and against that measure even as lawsuits get underway.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: Three lawsuits were filed Thursday to block Arizonas immigration law from taking effect; one by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, and one each by police officers in Tuscan and Phoenix.

On the lawn in front of Arizonas capitol building, leaders of three powerful civil rights groups also announced their intention to keep the law from taking effect: the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

MALDEFs president, Thomas Saenz, says the Arizona law is an unconstitutional attempt to control immigration.

Mr. THOMAS SAENZ (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund): And that is a responsibility and authority that belongs exclusively to the federal government under our Constitution. Indeed, if it were not the case that we had only one federal government regulating immigration, we would cease to be one nation.

ROBBINS: Saenz says the law also illegally requires police to use race, language or accent as a basis to question people.

This is not the first time this coalition of groups has sued to block a state immigration law. In the 90s it successfully stopped California's Proposition 187, which tried to cut off education and social services to undocumented immigrants. That law was supported by almost 60 percent of California voters. A poll released Thursday shows that the Arizona law is supported by more than 60 percent of voters here. Another poll shows 51 percent of voters nationwide support Arizonas crackdown.

Representative JOHN KAVANAGH (Republican, Arizona): Its not just Arizona. Its everybodys upset, and this countrys not laughing at us. They're cheering us on.

ROBBINS: Republican State Representative John Kavanagh is one of the bills sponsors. Kavanagh scoffed at threats to boycott Arizona tourism or products. Kavanagh says in the long-run visitors at least will come back.

Rep. KAVANAGH: Because as the illegal immigration population is reduced, partially because of this law, Arizona will become a safer place and tourists like safe locations.

ROBBINS: Yet even some law enforcement officials in Arizona are bluntly expressing their opposition.

Sheriff CLARENC DUPNIK (Pima County, Arizona): Its bull (bleep).

ROBBINS: Thats Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. Pima County is in southern Arizona along the border and(ph) Tuscan. His department regularly arrests illegal crosses who've committed serious crimes, then turns them over to the Border Patrol. Dupnik says the state law duplicates federal law, and if it takes effect it will drain local resources.

Sheriff DUPNIK: We would not only put the jail into a crisis overnight, we would overwhelm the rest of the system and the taxpayers would have to pay for that. Right now we give them to the Feds and it doesnt cost the local taxpayers anything.

Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): I look at it a little different. I say I'm helping the federal government. They can't take care of this problem themselves.

ROBBINS: That is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaios jurisdiction includes Phoenix. He says he has plenty of room for illegal immigrants in his famous, or infamous, tent city jails. So hes looking forward to making them serve local time before he turns them over to the Feds.

Sheriff ARPAIO: Because now its a state law misdemeanor to be in this country illegally. So thats just the extra tool that we will have if we want to enforce that. I am going to enforce that.

ROBBINS: Still, in response to concerns, Arizona's House of Representatives approved changes in the law late Thursday, months before its scheduled to take effect. One change says race cannot be used as the sole reason to demand proof of legal residence or citizenship. Another says the law can only be use if police make a stop or arrest. But a final change makes the law stiffer. It requires police to question immigration status when they're called for even minor local offenses such as loud parties.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Phoenix.

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