Foes and Supporters of New Immigration Law Gather in Arizona
PHOENIX — Two sides of the immigration debate converged here Saturday, a throng of several thousand marching for five miles opposed to Arizona’s new immigration law and another large gathering expected at a nearby stadium this evening in support of it.
Organizers said the timing was coincidental, with both sides taking advantage of a holiday weekend to bring out the masses. But the gatherings promised to encapsulate in a single day the passions surrounding the national immigration debate recharged by the new law, which will expand the state’s role in immigration enforcement.
Banging drums, blowing whistles and carrying placards denouncing the new law — “Do I Look illegal?” many of them said — the largely peaceful march opposed to the law was one of the largest since Gov. Jan Brewer signed it April 23 and brought thousands of people to the capitol plaza.
“It’s going to get ugly here in Arizona,” said Irasema Carranza, 24, a United States citizen married to an illegal immigrant who has been told he has to wait 10 years for legal papers. She marched with him and their young daughter.
The law, which barring successful legal challenges will take effect July 29, will allow the police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are illegal immigrants when they have stopped for another reason. It also makes it a state crime, not just a federal one, to not carry immigration papers.
Advocates see it as a tool for law enforcement to weed out illegal immigrants, while five lawsuits filed against it call it an infringement on federal authority and suggest Latino citizens and legal residents will be swept up for questioning.
On another front, the governor and attorney general are disputing who will defend the state in expected legal challenges, including one the United States Justice Department is weighing.
Governor Brewer said she had removed the state’s attorney general from defending Arizona’s controversial new immigration enforcement law, accusing him of colluding with the United States Justice Department as it weighs whether to challenge the law in court.
But the matter remained in dispute on Saturday, as the attorney general, Terry Goddard, said in an e-mail message that he was “definitely defending the state” in legal challenges to the law.
Ms. Brewer, a Republican, said she took action after Mr. Goddard, a Democrat and potential challenger in her re-election bid, met Friday with Justice Department lawyers, who then met with her legal advisers.
Mr. Goddard, who has publicly stated that he opposes the law but has vowed to defend the state in court as its chief lawyer, said he told the Justice Department team that “we need solutions from Washington, not more lawsuits.”
Ms. Brewer expressed similar sentiments after her legal advisers met with the federal lawyers, vowing to defend the state to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.
But she accused Mr. Goddard of a lack of resolve on immigration matters and called his meeting with the Justice Department team a “curious coordination.”
“For some inexplicable reason, the Department of Justice officials met with the Arizona attorney general hours before meeting with the State of Arizona’s legal team, and then allowed the attorney general to hold a press conference to discuss the meeting,” she said in a statement.
The immigration law she signed gave her the power to coordinate the state’s legal defense because the Legislature saw a “lack of confidence” in Mr. Goddard’s willingness to defend the law, she said.
The United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., is nearing a decision on whether to challenge the law, which gives the state and local police broad authority to enforce federal immigration law.
Justice Department officials said they routinely meet with a state’s attorney general and governor when considering legal action against their state.
“We continue to have concerns that the law drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and are examining it to see what options are available to the federal government,” said Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.
Mr. Holder has said he worries that the law may intrude on federal immigration authority and lead to racial profiling. On Thursday he met with several police chiefs who oppose the law as divisive and a detriment to getting immigrants to report crime and cooperate with criminal investigations.
Already, five lawsuits have been filed against the law, including two that name Ms. Brewer as a defendant. Mr. Goddard suggested that her legal team could play a role in those, but said his office, by the state Constitution, defends the state in any litigation. An aide said he doubted that the Legislature could change that authority through the provisions they included in the immigration law. And at any rate, the law is not due to take effect until July 29, raising a question as to whether she could act now.
The squabbling came hours before thousands of people descended on Phoenix for a five-mile march against the law. Later, a rally at a stadium in a nearby suburb was expected to draw thousands in support of the law and to encourage a “buycott” of the state to counter a wave of announced boycotts in opposition to the law.