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Immigration law generates new legal challenges

Demonstrators hold a large U.S. flag at the state Capitol in Phoenix to protest immigration legislation signed into law last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. The U.S.’s toughest legislation against illegal immigration faces critics who oppose the measure as a basic violation of people’s civil rights. AP Images

Demonstrators hold a large U.S. flag at the state Capitol in Phoenix to protest immigration legislation signed into law last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. The U.S.’s toughest legislation against illegal immigration faces critics who oppose the measure as a basic violation of people’s civil rights. AP Images

PHOENIX — An Arizona police officer and a Latino group filed the first legal challenges of Arizona’s sweeping new law cracking down on illegal immigration Thursday.

Fifteen-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar argues there’s no way for officers to confirm people’s immigration status without impeding investigations. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tucson, alleges the new immigration law violates numerous constitutional rights and could hinder police investigations in Hispanic-prevalent areas.

A Latino Clergy group also sued Thursday in federal court in Phoenix. The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders will seek an injunction preventing authorities from enforcing the law.

The group argues 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.

Signed last week by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, the law 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.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal government may challenge the law, and more Hispanic and civil rights groups are planning lawsuits.

“Mexican-Americans are not going to take this lying down,” singer Linda Ronstadt, a Tucson native, said at a state Capitol 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.

MALDEF President Thomas Saenz said many Latinos fear implementation of the law but that the legal challenge provides reason for optimism. “We will be in Arizona to protect the community,” he said.

On Wednesday, a group filed papers to launch a referendum drive that could put the law on hold until 2012, when voters could decide whether it is repealed.

The legislation’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Russell Pearce, said he has no doubt voters will support the new law at the ballot box, which would then protect it from repeal by the Legislature. In Arizona, measures approved by voters can only be repealed at the ballot box.

At least three Arizona cities — Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson — also are considering lawsuits to block the law.

Meanwhile, the effect of the law continued to ripple beyond Arizona.

A group of conservative state lawmakers in Oklahoma are considering pushing 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. “I’d do something very similar” if elected,” Former Rep. Scott McInnis, told KHOW-AM radio in Denver.

Denver Public Schools is banning work-related travel to Arizona. Even though school employees are in the country legally, DPS spokesman Kristy Armstrong said officials don’t want them to be “subjected to that kind of scrutiny and search.”

Retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu also chimed in, saying he supports the idea of a boycott of Arizona businesses, according to a letter he wrote that was posted Wednesday on TheCommunity.com, a website for Nobel peace laureates that promotes peace and human rights.

“I recognize that Arizona has become a widening entry point for illegal immigration from the South … but a solution that degrades innocent people, or that makes anyone with broken English a suspect, is not a solution,” Tutu said.