First Legal Salvo Launched Against Arizona Immigration Law

First Legal Salvo Launched Against Arizona Immigration Law

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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A coalition of religious groups today commenced the legal battle against Arizona’s new controversial immigrant law, filing suit in the U.S. District Court to stop its implementation.

The law, SB 1070, would make Arizona the first state to make it a crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), a Washington, D.C., group that represents over 20,000 Christian churches, fired the first shot in what could be a long series of lawsuits against the controversial bill that would take effect in 90 days.

Plaintiffs argue that SB 1070 usurps federal control over immigration, and it could lead to racial profiling.

A police officer in Tucson also filed a lawsuit against the law, according to the Arizona Republic.

Meanwhile, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) announced they would file a lawsuit in the coming weeks.

“The Arizona community can be assured that a vigorous and sophisticated legal challenge will be mounted in advance of SB 1070's implementation,” said MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz.

Saenz emphasized that the main challenge to what he called an “unconstitutional law” would be focused on Arizona’s foray into immigration policy, which is under federal jurisdiction.

He said the bill also violates constitutional rights to equal protection under the law, due process and free-speech violations. He argued that it would lead to racial profiling.

“Many people would be swept up that have a legal right to be here,” Saenz said.

Gov. Jan Brewer has dismissed the legal arguments against the bill. The day she signed it, she issued an executive order requiring police training in order to prevent racial profiling.

But Saenz explained that the way the law was written would lead to civil rights violations.

“There’s a simple statement that says you can’t rely ‘solely’ on race,” he said, “but what that says implicitly is that you can rely solely on race among other factors.”

He emphasized that given the current political climate there are concerns that SB 1070 is already leading to abuses even before it has taken effect.

Saenz told New America Media that the federal government should take action either in the courts or with a public statement that makes clear “that this is an inappropriate interference with federal immigration policy.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was considering the impact of the Arizona law, and didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing litigation.

Attorney Daniel Ortega, chair of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) executive committee, emphasized that having evidence of the impact of the law before it took effect would be essential in a legal challenge, and that the lawsuit should be not be rushed.

But others expressed a sense of urgency.

“It’s important to take action now. We have Arizonans leaving the state, not just undocumented immigrants. Businesses are suffering,” said Carlos Galindo, a spokesperson for the coalition that filed suit.

Supporters of the bill, including Rep. John Kavanagh, celebrated media reports that immigrants are leaving the state, and dismissed the fiscal impact a costly lawsuit might have on the state when it faces a budget deficit.

Kavanagh argued that the law includes provisions that would require police to act the same way the federal government does when it comes to preventing racial profiling.

Local law enforcement has been divided on the implementation of SB 1070, with people like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio saying it would help and others arguing it would put the police at risk of lawsuits and would distract them from public safety priorities.

Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead told the Arizona Republic thatthe bill "would essentially require 'people to prove their innocence' before even being charged with a crime."

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon announced this week that he would be willing to use his own money to fund a lawsuit against SB 1070, after he didn’t get enough support from the City Council.

Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta and Arizona singer Linda Ronstadt were present during the ACLU and MALDEF announcement at the State Capitol.

Huerta sent a message trying to calm the undocumented population in Arizona, many of them who are leaving.

“Don’t leave. Stay here,” she said in Spanish during a press conference.” You have all these people here that would protect you.”

She said that the uproar that the passage of the law has created would revive a civil rights movement.

“There’s going to be a political revolution in Arizona,” said Huerta.