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Conflicts escalate in Arizona over tough immigration law

Thousands join angry protests in state capital

Aurrela Saenz (center), who has been in the United States for 25 years, was among the protesters outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix Sunday. Aurrela Saenz (center), who has been in the United States for 25 years, was among the protesters outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix Sunday. (Joshua Lott/ Reuters)
By Jonathan J. Cooper
Associated Press / April 27, 2010

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PHOENIX — The conflict over a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigration in Arizona intensified yesterday as vandals smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the State Capitol’s windows.

More protests were planned after thousands gathered over the weekend to demonstrate against a bill that will make it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona.

Opponents say the law will lead to rampant racial profiling and turn Arizona into a police state with provisions that require police to question people about their immigrant status if officers suspect they are here illegally. Day laborers can be arrested for soliciting work if they are in the country illegally, and police departments can be sued if they don’t carry out the law.

But supporters of the law, set to take effect in late July or August, say it is necessary to protect Arizonans from a litany of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Arizona is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants.

Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the bill on Friday, argues Arizona must act because the federal government has failed to stop the steady stream of illegal immigrants and drugs that move through the state from Mexico.

The fallout over the dispute spread across the border yesterday as President Felipe Calderon of Mexico said the law is discriminatory and warned that relations with the US border state will suffer. Calderon says trade and political ties with Arizona will be “seriously affected,’’ although he announced no concrete measures.

The law has revved up the national debate, drawing the attention of the Obama administration and Congress. Obama has called the new law misguided and instructed the Justice Department to examine it on legal grounds.

The new law makes it a crime to be in the country illegally. Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are legal could be arrested, jailed for up to six months, and fined $2,500.

Arizona officers would arrest people found to be undocumented and turn them over to federal immigration officers. Opponents said the federal government can block the law by refusing to accept them.

US Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, asked the federal government not to cooperate when illegal immigrants are picked up by local police.

State Senator Russell Pearce, the Republican who sponsored the legislation, said it’s “pretty disappointing’’ that opponents would call on the federal government to refuse to cooperate with Arizona authorities.

“It’s outrageous that these people continue to support law breakers over law keepers,’’ Pearce said Sunday.

Grijalva and civil rights activists promised to march in the streets and invite arrest by refusing to comply with the law. Police said the protests Sunday were peaceful.

“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.

US Representative Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, called on President Obama to live up to a campaign promise to pass immigration reform. Gutierrez is one of the nation’s loudest voices calling for a comprehensive immigration overhaul that would create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants now in the United States.

“Our message today is: ‘Mr. President, we listened, and we came out in record massive numbers to support you,’’’ he said. “We need you to support us today.’’

The law has drawn support from many in Arizona who are fed up with the many problems brought on by illegal immigration.

“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.’’

Supporters dismiss concerns about profiling, saying the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as the sole basis for an immigration check. Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion that a person is in the United States illegally.

The March 27 shooting death of rancher Rob Krentz on his property in southeastern Arizona brought illegal immigration and border security into focus.