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Police, activists prepare ahead of Arizona immigration law

PHOENIX — The sheriff of Arizona's most populous county is making room in a vast outdoor jail and determined to round up illegal immigrants to fill it. Police from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Grand Canyon are getting last-minute training. And protests and marches are planned throughout Phoenix.

Arizona's new immigration law takes effect Thursday, creating a potentially volatile mix of police, illegal immigrants and thousands of activists, many planning to show up without identification as a show of solidarity.

At least one group plans to block the driveway for immigration offices in downtown Phoenix, daring officers to ask them their immigration status. "Our message for that day is: 'Don't comply, don't buy,' " said CodePink activist Liz Hourican.

As both sides prepare, a federal judge is deciding whether to step in and block the law. It requires officers enforcing other laws to check a person's immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. It also bans illegal immigrants from soliciting work in a public place.

Police across the state scrambled on Tuesday to train officers, including on how to avoid racial profiling, and plan for a potential influx of detainees.

The hardest-line approach is expected in the Phoenix area, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio plans his 17th crime and immigration sweep. He plans to hold the sweep, regardless of any ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton.

Arpaio, known for his tough stance against illegal immigration, plans to send about 200 deputies and volunteers out, looking for traffic violators, people wanted on criminal warrants and others. He's used that tactic before to arrest dozens of people, many of them illegal immigrants.

Elsewhere in the state, police officials said they didn't expect any dramatic events. They were busy wrapping up training sessions this week, with some agencies saying untrained officers will not be allowed on the streets.

Critics of the law among police chiefs remain, saying it is so vague no amount of training could eliminate potential confusion.

"Am I going to sit here and say I think every officer has a clear understanding of the law when they leave the training?" Tucson police Chief Roberto Villasenor said. "No, because I think the law is poorly constructed."

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment on preparations or the role federal authorities would play in enforcing the law, except to say ICE "focuses first on criminal aliens who pose a threat to our communities."

Police, activists prepare ahead of Arizona immigration law 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 9:36pm]
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