PHOENIX – Defending its legality, Gov. Jan Brewer signed what is the toughest state law in the country designed to combat illegal immigration.
The governor rejected claims that the legislation, which gives police more power to stop and detain those not in this country legally, amounts to legalized racial profiling. She said the measure, in the version that finally reached her Monday, contains sufficient protections to individual constitutional rights.
And if that isn't enough, Brewer signed an executive order requiring that all police officers get proper training about when they can -- and cannot -- stop and question people about their immigration status.
The governor pointed out, both in her statement and that executive order, that the new law prohibits police from using race or ethnicity as the sole factor in determining whether to pursue an inquiry.
But she conceded that it does permit either to be used as one factor for an officer's consideration. And she defended the language.
"We have to trust our law enforcement,'' Brewer said.
"Police officers are going to be respectful,'' the governor continued. "They know what their jobs are, they've taken an oath. And racial profiling is illegal.''
But Phoenix attorney David Selden, who was involved in challenging a 2006 law aimed at companies that knowingly hired illegal immigrants, said allowing race to be used as a factor at all is unconstitutional.
"That was a strategy used by white segregationists when they were trying to gut the (federal) civil rights bill,'' he said. Selden suggested the same logic may be at work here.
"If they're not going to allow racial profiling, let's get 'race' out of it entirely,'' he said, rather than continuing to let police consider it.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who crafted the legislation, defended allowing it to be used as a factor. He said it recognizes that 90 percent of those who come to this country illegally are from Mexico or points south.
"You can't just say it's not ever a factor,'' he said. "It may be.''
Anyway, Pearce argued, police need a reason to pull someone over in the first place.
And he blamed "the mainstream media'' for promoting "this misinformation.''
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the governor's signature marks "one of the darkest days in Arizona's history.'' At the same time, she sought to calm fears in the Hispanic community, saying she is confident a court will step in and declare the law unconstitutional, preventing it from taking effect as scheduled in early August.
"There's no need to flee, there's no need to leave,'' she said.
Pearce, however, said some people should be worried.
"If you're here illegally, you should be concerned, just like if you drive drunk,'' he said. "The law is going to be enforced.''
But Pearce said those who are U.S. citizens "have all the safety and security they've always had.''
Several groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund already have vowed to sue.
Brewer said she expects it to survive "in most areas,'' but did not elaborate.
She also said those who believe that this law will lead to civil rights violations are "alarmists.''
The governor said there has been "a lot of misinformation'' about what's in the bill in the media.
"But there are people who are alarmists, who want to cause chaos, and they particularly don't want to always listen to the facts,'' the governor said.
Attorney General Terry Goddard said those who challenge the law may have a case.
Goddard said he won't be involved in any decisions of his office on how and whether to defend the statute, as he is running against Brewer for governor and publicly called on her to veto the measure. Those determinations, he said, will be made independently by his chief deputy.
But Goddard said that, as a lawyer, there are elements of the law that could be troubling -- depending on how the statute is enforced.
One is that ability to use race or ethnicity as a factor in determining whether there is "reasonable suspicion'' to question someone stopped for some other legitimate reason about their immigration status.
And then, he said, is there's the whole question of what constitutes reasonable suspicion in the first place.
Goddard said seeing someone come over the border illegally certainly counts. So does being found with others who admit they're illegal immigrants.
"It's one of the troubling things about this statute: So many things are subjective,'' Goddard said.
At Friday's press conference, Brewer seemed flustered by a question of what an illegal immigrant looks like.
"I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like,'' the governor responded. She said that is one reason for her order for more training of police.
"The law will be enforce civilly, fairly and without discriminatory points to it,'' Brewer said.
Brewer also brushed aside concerns that illegal immigrants who are crime victims or witnesses won't come forward, as it would open them to be being questioned about their immigration status.
That is based on the most controversial part of the measure which says that when police officers make an official contact with anyone, a "reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.''
Brewer, however, noted there is an exception to that requirement if making that inquiry "may hinder or obstruct an investigation.''
Goddard, however, noted that is based on each officer's individual determination.
On top of that, another section of the measure prohibits government from limiting the ability of their officers to enforce federal immigration law. And any citizen who believes a community is violating that can file suit.
Brewer ended the press conference as a question was being asked about the possibility companies and organizations may boycott Arizona, refusing to have their conferences and conventions here. But she did acknowledge, to a related question, that there may be businesses that react negatively to the bitter political fight.
"I would say that that's unfortunate and it makes me very distressed, to say the least, the governor said.
"But there are also CEOs and business out there that want to know they can live in a safe and secure community and they would like to see the border secured,'' Brewer said.
Pearce predicted there will be no boycott.
"People love to come to a safe state,'' he said. And he echoed
There was a lot of political pressure on Brewer to sign the controversial measure which would give police new powers to stop and arrest illegal immigrants.
All three of her Republican foes in the gubernatorial primary are on record urging a signature. And every Republican legislator, except for Sen. Carolyn Allen of Scottsdale, voted for the legislation.
Brewer, however, sidestepped the question of how politics figured into her decision.
"I would like to believe that any politician, when they are elected, after they're elected, they do what's right for the people of Arizona,'' she said. And then, speaking of herself in the third person, she said, "I think it's very, very important that the people out there understand that Gov. Jan Brewer of the great state of Arizona, would always do what's right for the people of Arizona.''
Brewer's signing came a day after she directed that $10 million be made available to local and tribal police agencies which propose ways they can assist border security efforts. She also directed the state Department of Public Safety to come up with plans to help border counties if they seek assistance.
Friday, as the day before, she said Arizona needs to act because of the failure in Washington.
"The majority of the people of Arizona are very disappointed and frustrated with the federal government in regards to illegal immigration into the state,'' she said. "And they want to put a stop to it. I think that's pretty evident.''
The governor scheduled her press conference at an auditorium in a state-owned building about a mile from the Capitol. The location not only provide space for the local and national media interested in the issue but also created some separation from the approximately 2,000 people who gathered in the mall between the House and Senate.
Most of them appeared to be high school or college students.
The Department of Public Safety reported that Phoenix police arrested a juvenile for aggravated assault on a police officer. DPS spokesman Bart Graves also said one person was "escorted from the Capitol grounds for inciting a disturbance.''