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2 lawsuits challenge Arizona's immigration law

PHOENIX - The first two challenges to Arizona's new law aimed at illegal immigrants were filed Thursday.

Attorneys for the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders charged in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that the measure, signed less than a week earlier by Gov. Jan Brewer, illegally puts the state in the business of enforcing federal immigration laws.

But attorney and state Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, said there is a more immediate effect on Hispanics.

The measure specifically requires police, when practicable, to check the immigration status of those with whom they have official contact if there is "reasonable suspicion'' they are in this country illegally. That, he said, opens the door to racial profiling.

"Reasonable suspicion is a standard that lends itself to a personal interpretation on the part of an officer on the scene,'' Miranda said.

That possibility of racial profiling is also what's behind a separate lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson by Martin Escobar, a Tucson police officer. In the legal papers, he said there's no racially neutral criteria that can be used by police to determine someone's immigration status.

Both Brewer and Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who crafted the legislation, have denied it will lead to racial profiling. Brewer specifically said that already is forbidden under other laws.

And the measure specifically prohibits an officer from deciding to question someone based solely on race, ethnicity or national origin.

It does, however, permit those factors to be considered by an officer. Pearce said that is justified, saying 90 percent of illegal immigrants in Arizona are from Mexico and Latin America.

But late Thursday, state lawmakers were moving to revamp that language in some follow-up legislation to eliminate the use of these factors entirely.

That fear of racial profiling also is fueling a third lawsuit being contemplated by three other groups.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He said the law, if allowed to go into effect, would have "severe repercussions.''

While Saenz spoke in terms of legal and constitutional protections, others at a Thursday press conference called to announce the pending lawsuit were more direct.

Hispanic civil rights pioneer Dolores Huerta said the legislation is part of an ongoing "policy of hatred against Latinos and against immigrants.'' She helped organize the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez.

Richard Chavez, brother of Cesar, said he has spent his life "trying to become a full-fledged citizen'' even though he was born in Arizona.

"All of a sudden we have these people here in Arizona taking me back to Square One,'' he said, calling SB 1070 "this vicious, racist, fascist bill.''

Also joining in that planned lawsuit are the American Civil Liberties Union.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, the organization's state director, said there has been "no shortage of anti-immigrant measures'' enacted in Arizona.

"SB 1070 is in a league of its own,'' she said. "It is one of the most extreme examples of fear-mongering that we have seen in recent years.''

She particularly singled out the language which she said makes Latinos and other presumed immigrants potential criminal suspects.

"Clearly, the intent of this bill is to make life miserable for Latinos in Arizona,'' Meetze said. "But we will not go away.

Arizona native and recording artist Linda Ronstadt added her voice of opposition. She called it a "devastating blow to law enforcement.''

"The police don't protect us in a democracy with brute force,'' Ronstadt said, something she said she learned from her brother, Peter, who was police chief in Tucson.

"They require the trust and the cooperation and the respect of the communities,'' she continued. "Without the trust of the community and the years and years and years of work they did to try to build trust in those communities, their job becomes next to impossible.''

Ronstadt said her brother also told her that "a bad law that is hard to enforce and is not clearly written weakens the law for all and weakens law enforcement for everybody.''

Brewer, in response to questions about racial profiling, last week 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. Saenz scoffed at that, saying he questions how effective that could be in teaching police when someone should be suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

Racial profiling aside, Miranda said there is a problem with another section of the legislation which allows police to charge those in this country illegally with violating state law.

"This appears to be an attempt to create a completely independent state arrest authority for administrative violations of federal law,'' he said in his legal papers.

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