PHOENIX—A lawyer for a Phoenix police officer told a federal court Thursday his client could be sued for racial profiling if he enforces Arizona's new immigration law. It is the first hearing in a series of legal challenges filed over the controversial crackdown which has divided law enforcement in the state and across the country.
Officer David Salgado, a 19-year veteran of the Phoenix police department, could also lose his job if he fails to enforce the new law, his attorney said.
Arizona's statute requires an officer to verify the immigration status of a person stopped for other alleged crimes, if "reasonable suspicion" exists of illegal presence in the U.S.
But the law also empowers Arizona residents to sue an officer they believe isn't enforcing the law to the fullest extent.
"If he enforces the law, he can be sued. If he doesn't enforce the law, he can be sued" by a private citizen, said Stephen Montoya, the attorney for Mr. Salgado. His client "is caught between a rock and a hard place," he said.
Mr Montoya also argued that the law, which makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally, usurps federal authority over immigration. "The state of Arizona cannot order its employees to violate federal law," he said.
Attorneys for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told the judge that the lawsuit, which was also filed by an advocacy group called Chicanos Por La Causa, should be dismissed because the police officer and the group have no valid claim of immediate harm and the state law doesn't trump federal immigration law.
Outside the courthouse, in 105-degree heat, about 50 protesters and supporters of the law gathered; police kept the two sides apart.