PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed the toughest law against illegal immigration in the country, shrugging aside warnings from religious and civil rights leaders — and President Barack Obama — that it would lead to widespread racial profiling.
Hours after Obama denounced the measure as "misguided," Brewer signed the bill, which makes it a crime to not possess proper immigration paperwork and requires police to determine whether people are in the United States illegally.
Obama signaled that a legal showdown might be possible, and Department of Justice officials said they "were reviewing the bill" but declined to discuss the legislation further.
Brewer, at an afternoon news conference, cast the law in terms of public safety, saying, "We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels."
Brewer, a Republican, said she would order the state police training agency to formulate guidelines to train officers and protect against racial profiling. "People across America are watching Arizona, seeing how we implement this law, ready to jump on the slightest misstep," she said.
But the law's opponents were skeptical that it could be enforced without police singling out Latinos. One provision of the law prevents police from using race "solely" to form a suspicion about someone's legality, but the law does not prevent race from being a factor.
Hundreds of high school students left schools this week in protest, pouring into the plaza outside the Capitol and urging a veto. Religious leaders and police chiefs — and thousands of callers to the governor's office — pressed for Brewer to reject the law. Some Arizona officials argued that the law will stigmatize the state as much as its earlier refusal to honor the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But a recent poll showed that 70 percent of state voters supported the measure — even though 53 percent said it could lead to civil rights violations.
Foes of illegal immigration were elated.
"Arizona is actually taking the lead in doing what the president is failing to do, which is to protect the interests of the people of Arizona," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "What the Legislature and Gov. Brewer are saying is, 'If the president won't do it, we're going to do it ourselves.' "
Unless opponents can stop it with lawsuits, the law will take effect 90 days after the legislative session ends later this month or in May.