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Arizona immigration law opponents file new offensive aimed at blocking status check

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June 25, 2012: People hold signs as they gather during a protest in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Phoenix, Arizona. (Reuters)

Opponents of Arizona's hardline immigration enforcement law launched a new effort Tuesday aimed at thwarting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will allow police to enforce the so-called "show me your papers" provision.

A coalition of civil rights groups, religious leaders and business organizations filed a new request seeking a court order that would prevent authorities from enforcing a rule that requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons.

The groups are asking U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to block enforcement of the requirement before it takes effect, arguing that Latinos in Arizona would face systematic racial profiling and unreasonably long detentions under the contentious section of the 2010 law.

In their 65-page filing, the coalition claims Arizona's immigration law "is pre-empted by federal law and violates the Fourth Amendment" and could "undermine trust between the police and community members, for whom a routine encounter with law enforcement will become a lengthy detention."

They also say that immigration patrols in recent years by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- the Arizona lawman known for his rigid stance against illegal immigration -- demonstrate that the law's requirement will disproportionately affect Latinos. Though the requirement hasn't taken effect, Arpaio said his officers have inquired about people's immigration status in the past.

The National Immigration Law Center is one of the groups pushing the challenge in court along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Asian American Justice Center, National Day Labor Organizing Network and others.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, said "this latest legal challenge is unsurprising as opponents of SB 1070 have indicated they'll go to any length in order to block Arizona's implementation of this law.

"The Supreme Court has already spoken unanimously on the constitutionality of this provision. Gov. Brewer is hopeful Arizona law enforcement will soon at long last be empowered to enforce SB 1070, showing that it can be done fairly, lawfully and in harmony with civil rights and the Constitution," Benson added in a statement.

A call to Arpaio's office for comment wasn't immediately returned Tuesday evening.

In a separate case, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Arpaio's office in a lawsuit of racially profiling Latinos in immigration patrols. The sheriff denies the allegations. That case goes to trial Thursday in federal court.

Although a different challenge to the Arizona law by the Obama administration succeeded in getting three other parts of the law thrown out by the Supreme Court last month, the administration failed to get the "show me your papers" requirement overturned on its argument that federal law trumps state law. The coalition is seeking to shelve the requirement on other grounds.

Arizona's law was passed in 2010 amid voter frustration with the state's role as the busiest illegal entry point into the country. Five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah -- have adopted variations on Arizona's law.

Legal experts say the groups face an uphill battle in trying to persuade Bolton to bar enforcement of the requirement because the lower courts might want to wait until the requirement -- which won't take effect until at least Friday -- is enforced to consider actual injuries from the law, rather than confront the potential for harm.

Even if opponents don't succeed in getting the requirement put on hold, some backers of the law are questioning the level of cooperation they will get from federal immigration authorities, who will be called to verify people's immigration status and be responsible for picking up illegal immigrants from local officers.

Federal immigration officers have said they will help, but only if doing so conforms to their priorities, including catching repeat violators and identifying and removing those who threaten public safety and national security.

If federal agents decline to pick up illegal immigrants, local officers in some cases will likely have to let them go unless they're suspected of committing a crime that would require them to be brought to jail.

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