PHOENIX: A controversial new Arizona immigration law was challenged for the first time in court here Thursday, at the start of one of seven suits brought against the heavily`criticized policy.
The law, due to take effect on July 29, makes it a crime to be in the state, which borders Mexico, without proper immigration papers.
Lawyers for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer defended the law, as attorneys representing the plaintiff David Salgado, a Phoenix police officer, argued it was unconstitutional.
"We`ve never had 50 immigration laws," said attorney Stephen Montoya for Salgado, arguing the law violated federal immigration law and the US Constitution.
Immigration law was part of US foreign policy, and "states can`t contradict it," he said.
"We can`t have hundreds of immigration laws. We`re going to have hundreds of laws unless your honor decides to enjoin," he urged judge Susan Bolton in the Phoenix courtroom. He called on the judge for the enforcement of the law to be put off until the court has ruled on all the seven challenges.
But the team representing the governor argued the new law would not lead to racial profiling as opponents have alleged, and called for the suit to be dismissed.
"We`ve got 15,000 well`qualified police officers who do this every day," said attorney John Bouma.
"The chamber of horrors that some are seeing are off. What`s important is what will actually happen" when the law begins to be enforced, he added.
Salgado, a Mexican`American Phoenix resident, told reporters: "I`m not a politician, or an activist."
"But when the law was passed, I took action because I felt it was my duty to do so," he added, in explaining why he brought the suit.
Officials in Arizona argue they have been overrun by illegal immigrants leading to a spike in the crime rate and straining state resources.
They say the measure was necessary only because of lax federal enforcement of the southern US border.
But the US government has also filed suit against the law, with a Justice Department statement saying it hampered the authority of the Obama administration to enforce national immigration policy. The US administration case is set to be heard next week.
About 30 percent of Arizona`s 6.6 million people are Hispanic, one third of whom are foreign born, including 460,000 illegal immigrants.
BDST: 9:40 HRS, 16 July 2010