Thousands of protesters descended on Arizona's Capitol Sunday to rally against a tough new immigration law they say will lead to police harassment of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who look Hispanic.
Civil rights advocates have vowed to challenge the law in court, saying it would undoubtedly lead to racial profiling. The Rev. Al Sharpton said that just as freedom riders battled segregation in the 1960s, he would organize "freedom walkers" to challenge the Arizona bill.
"We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest," Sharpton said Sunday in New York
Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law Friday. It requires police to question people about their immigration status -- including asking for identification -- if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The law also toughens restrictions on hiring illegal immigrants for day labor and knowingly transporting them.
Supporters have dismissed concerns of racial profiling, saying the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as the sole basis for an immigration check. Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion someone is in the U.S. illegally.
Hundreds gathered outside the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday shouting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses. After she signed the bill, Brewer said critics were "overreacting."
A handful of protesters lingered at the Capitol Saturday morning. Others gathered in Tucson outside the campaign headquarters of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who opposes the measure and has called on businesses and groups looking for convention and meeting locations to boycott Arizona.
Current law in Arizona and most states doesn't require police to ask about the immigration status of those they encounter, and many police departments prohibit officers from inquiring out of fear immigrants won't cooperate in other investigations.
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 in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. It also allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon's office said in a statement Saturday that "the Mexican government condemns the approval of the law" and "the criminalization of migration, far from contributing to collaboration and cooperation between Mexico and the state of Arizona, represents an obstacle to solving the shared problems of the border region."
Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the state with the most illegal border crossings, with the harsh, remote desert serving as the gateway for thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans.
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.