PHOENIX - Civil rights activists called on President Barack Obama Sunday to fight a tough new Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants, promising to march in the streets and invite arrest by refusing to comply if the measure goes into effect.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told about 3,500 protesters gathered at the state Capitol that the Obama administration can help defeat the law by refusing to cooperate when illegal immigrants are picked up by local police and turned over to federal immigration officers.
"We're going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we're going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law," he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking yesterday in New York, said just as freedom riders battled segregation in the 1960s, he would organize "freedom walkers" to go to Arizona to challenge the law.
Obama has called the new law "misguided" and instructed the Justice Department to examine it to see whether it's legal. It requires police to question a person about immigration status, including asking for identification, if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. Opponents say that would undoubtedly lead to racial profiling.
Supporters have dismissed fears of racial profiling, saying the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as the sole basis for an immigration check. Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law Friday, has told state officials to develop training for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion someone is in the United States illegally.
The new law makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be here could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500.
Arizona officers would arrest people found to be undocumented and turn them over to federal immigration officers. Opponents said the federal government can block the law by refusing to accept them.
Senators appearing on the Sunday television news shows disagreed about whether immigration reform should be on the Senate agenda this year and whether the energy bill could be handled before the end of the year if immigration legislation were considered first.
"I just don't think this is the right time to take up this issue with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border, 10 percent unemployment," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he believes whichever legislation is ready first will be dealt with first.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he thought neither bill should be taken up because of the time needed for financial regulation legislation and for the annual budget bills.