ACLU, Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Against Arizona Law - Higher Education
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ACLU, Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Against Arizona Law

by Arelis Hernandez

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with national and Arizona-based civil rights organizations, filed a legal challenge Monday to Arizona’s tough new immigration law. The federal lawsuit aims to prevent the statute’s implementation which is scheduled for the end of July.

“This is the most extreme and dangerous of all the recent state and local laws reporting to deal with immigration issues,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It has triggered outrage and opposition from virtually every segment of society. The breadth of this lawsuit is a reflection of that widespread revulsion.”

The lawsuit is just one of several brought against the state but represents a coalition of 14 national and Arizona organizations — running the gamut from labor unions to religious groups and civil rights coalitions representing various communities of color — and 10 individuals, including an undocumented Arizona State University student, who claim the law legalizes racial profiling.

The Arizona legislature recently amended the law to forbid discrimination by race or appearance, but Guttentag said it did little to remedy violations of constitutional rights.

Under the law, police are authorized to detain or demand documentation from people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, but the criteria they can use to determine illegality remains vague.

“Immigration status is exactly that – a legal status. Status is not visible to the eye. The police are put in an impossible position because an officer cannot form a reasonable suspicion about an individual’s immigration status just by looking at them,” said Nina Perales, southwest regional counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Using race or language to investigate individuals for immigration violation violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Linton Joaquin, general counsel of National Immigration Law Center, said the law is “fundamentally misguided” and will hamper relations between local law enforcement and communities of color.

If people are afraid of being profiled, residents will be reluctant to cooperate with police as witnesses to serious crimes in their neighborhoods. Likewise, prosecuting undocumented immigrants will direct resources away from public safety, prompting opposition from the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.

But legal experts told the Arizona Republic in a forum discussion published Monday that immigration enforcement is a function of public safety since many criminals are also charged with immigration violations. Supporters base the law’s legitimacy on its similarity to federal statutes, but Guttentag said that argument won’t save the law in court since it abridges the Constitution’s supremacy clause.

Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said the NAACP is confident the case will stand in U.S. District court and stop similar laws from being proposed in other states around the country.

“African-Americans know all too well the insidious effects of racial profiling,” Jealous said. “The government should be preventing police from investigating and detaining people based on color and accent, not mandating it. Laws that encourage discrimination have no place in this country anywhere for anyone.”

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