Protesters head to Arizona as immigration law set to take effect

Protesters head to Arizona as immigration law set to take effect

Protestors from around the United States headed Tuesday to Arizona as the south-western state braced for widespread demonstrations when its controversial immigration law takes effect on Thursday, dpa reported.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 requires police to check the immigration of people who are stopped for other reasons but whom they suspect of being in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to hire or transport an undocumented immigrant.

According to civil rights groups, the law would subject massive numbers of people - both citizens and legal foreign residents - to racial profiling, improper investigations and detention.

The Arizona Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on an appeal against the law by a coalition of activists led by the American Civil Liberties Union. Also under consideration is an appeal by the US Department of Justice, which argues that the law impinges on federal legislative authority.

Arizona shares a 626-kilometre border with Mexico and is a main conduit for illegal border crossings into the US. Though such crossings have declined sharply in recent years due to the economic downturn, growth in violence related to drug trafficking in the border region has sparked increasing anger in US border states.

According to a CNN poll issued Tuesday, 55 per cent of Americans support the Arizona measure with 40 per cent opposed. Among whites, 34 per cent oppose the measure, while among Latinos opposition exceeds 70 per cent.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a member of the centre-right Republican Party, has championed the new law. She says the state must take action because the federal government has not lived up to its responsibilities on the border.

"I think the majority of America is in agreement with what we're trying to do in Arizona," she said this week.

Activists have predicted that thousands of undocumented immigrants will return to Mexico given the increasing likelihood of arrest. In Mexico, the government and humanitarian organizations have prepared shelters along the border area for the migrants. The Mexican government has also sent observers to Arizona to report on possible human-rights violations.

In Phoenix, the state capital, protests were still muted Tuesday. Dozens of protesters already in Phoenix picketed outside City Hall, calling on police not to enforce the new law. In neighbouring California, Los Angeles demonstrators unfurled banners from freeway overpasses that said "Stop Racist Arizona Law."

"What they are doing to Latinos in Arizona could happen to Latinos in other states," said protest spokeswoman Paulina Gonzalez of the We Are All Arizona Collective.

Much larger demonstrations are expected Thursday, including a planned civil disobedience action in Phoenix to test the new law.

"We will not be carrying 'papers,'" said rally organizer Maria Elena Durazo, a labour-union activists from Los Angeles. "We will let them know we are coming, and we will tell them: arrest us for being brown or black, arrest us for being suspicious."

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