Arizona Immigration Policy Sets Off Polarizing Debate

City workers in San Francisco and St. Paul can no longer take business trips to Arizona. A professor who helped write Arizona's new immigration law says his phone hasn't stopped ringing. The White House is planning a strategy to combat the new law even as legislators in other states propose copycat bills.

With a stroke of her pen, Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer not only signed into law the toughest immigration law in the country, she also reignited a polarizing debate. Protesters held dozens of marches in Los Angeles, New York and other cities Saturday to cap a chaotic week.

And with congressional elections six months away, the Arizona law has put the contentious vocabulary of "amnesty" for illegal immigrants vs. "securing our borders" back on center stage.

"The issue is always there, but it's usually right below the surface," said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. "It doesn't take much to bring it back up."

The main point of contention in the law is the responsibility given to local police to verify immigration status if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that a person is in the country illegally. Brewer has said Arizona was forced to pass the law because the federal government has failed to act on a flood of illegal immigrants.

Some civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the law will mean racial profiling, unfairly targeting Latinos who are in the country legally or were born here.

Congress jumped back into the debate Thursday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid outlined a legislative proposal that would increase border security and give some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a chance to earn citizenship.

President Obama has ordered a review by the Justice Department into whether the Arizona law, scheduled to go into effect in late July, is constitutional.

The first legal challenges were filed in Arizona last week. Civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, are mounting a broader attack. They say the law infringes on federal responsibility and violates the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause.

Supporters of the law are comfortable that it will hold up.

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law professor who helped draft the law, said the state is "three for three" defending immigration laws that were challenged as unconstitutional — laws that denied public benefits to illegal immigrants and targeted employers who hired them. "They've yet to defeat one of these Arizona statutes in court," he said.

Testing Strength of Boycotts

While lawyers prepare their suits, civil rights groups and some government agencies have launched economic boycotts.

Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said they will target businesses that donated to the campaigns of Arizona legislators who voted for the bill.

Government agencies, including San Francisco and St. Paul, and Denver Public Schools, have barred employees from official travel to Arizona. Tony Winnicker, spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the mayor does not want to "paint all of Arizona with one broad brush" but felt a boycott was the best way to voice disapproval.

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