Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Thousands of people marched through the streets of
Phoenix on Saturday to protest a state law taking effect July 29 that
will allow the police in Arizona to check the immigration status of
people they have stopped for another reason.
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
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
“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
Justice Department officials said they routinely meet with a state’s
attorney general and governor when considering legal action against
“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
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.