Slideshow: Activism against the Arizona immigration law

SLIDESHOW - The new law directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal...

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PHOENIX (AP) — Politicians weighed in on Arizona’s tough new immigration law Tuesday, while Mexico cautioned its citizens about an “adverse political atmosphere” in the state and a Phoenix man said he was aiming to get a referendum to repeal the measure on November’s ballot.

In California, Meg Whitman, the Republican front-runner in the California gubernatorial primary, said that Arizona is taking the wrong approach to with its tough new law.

“I think there’s just better ways to solve this problem,” Whitman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

But Sen. John McCain told CBS’s “The Early Show” that his state needed such a law because the Obama administration has failed to “secure our borders.” The Arizona Republican called the situation in his state “the worst I’ve ever seen,” and that ineffective border enforcement has resulted in drugs pouring into the southwestern United States from Mexico.

In Mexico, the Foreign Relations Department urged Mexicans in Arizona to “act with prudence and respect the framework of local laws” and said that the law’s passage shows “an adverse political atmosphere for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.”

Meanwhile, Jon Garrido, who produces a Hispanic website and ran unsuccessfully last year for Phoenix City Council, said he’s been flooded with inquiries and that he’s optimistic about putting a referendum to repeal the law on Arizona’s November ballot. Qualifying a referendum requires submission of at least 76,682 voter signatures within 90 days after the current legislative session.

Opposition to the law has grown since it was signed Friday by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, with civil rights leaders and others demanded a boycott of the state.

Brewer has said Arizona must act because Washington has failed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico. The state is the nation’s busiest gateway for people slipping into the country.

The measure — set to take effect in late July or early August — would make it a crime under state law to be in the U.S. illegally. It directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.

“If you look or sound foreign, you are going to be subjected to never-ending requests for police to confirm your identity and to confirm your citizenship,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which is exploring legal action.

Currently, many U.S. police departments do not ask about people’s immigration status unless they have run afoul of the law in some other way. Many departments say stopping and questioning people will only discourage immigrants from cooperating to solve crimes.

Under the new Arizona law, 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. That is a significant escalation of the typical federal punishment for being here illegally — deportation.

People arrested by Arizona police would be turned over to federal immigration officers. Opponents said the federal government could thwart the law by refusing to accept them.

Supporters of the law said it is necessary to protect Arizonans. The state is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants. Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion that someone is in the U.S. illegally.

The crux of opponents’ arguments is that only the federal government has the authority to regulate immigration.

“If every state had its own laws, we wouldn’t be one country; we’d be 50 different countries,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.


Associated Press Writers Eileen Sullivan and Darlene Superville in Washington, Julianna Barbassa in San Francisco and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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