Faith Leaders Protest Arizona Immigration Law

Some religious leaders from Arizona and elsewhere are coordinating nationwide protests against the state's new immigration law, which takes effect Thursday.

Beginning with a prayer vigil at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix early Thursday morning, faith leaders are organizing prayers and rallies into the weekend to denounce SB1070 and call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"People are living in fear, afraid to go to work and church, or to leave their home at all," said the Rev. Trina Zelle, director of the Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice and a Presbyterian minister, to reporters on Wednesday.

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"SB1070 is dehumanizing and violates our human rights," said Zelle, who helped lead Thursday morning's Phoenix prayer vigil. "I believe it grieves God."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070, the toughest law against illegal immigrants in the nation, in April.

The most controversial part of the law is allowing police officers to stop and interrogate people suspected of being illegal immigrants. Opponents of the law argue the policy would promote racial profiling and open the door to human rights violations.

"As a Muslim, I can personally attest to the destructive nature on racial profiling on my community," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), on Wednesday. "I refuse to see this unjust and un-American practice in the form of SB1070. It is an ill-advised and extremely ineffective way to fix the country's broken immigration system."

For now, at least, authorities cannot question people's immigration status based on suspicion. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday that blocked several of the law's most controversial provisions, including: allowing the warrantless arrest of a person who police believe would be subjected to deportation; making it a crime for someone to not carry their alien registration documents; and considering it a crime for undocumented immigrants to solicit or to perform work.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a prominent conservative Christian legal group, said the federal judge's restriction on SB1070 was "extremely disappointing."

"We believe the federal district court got it wrong and in its complex ruling has made it even more difficult for Arizona to protect and defend its borders," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement. "We believe Arizona's law compliments federal law and remain hopeful that the appeals process will ultimately produce a decision that underscores the fact that Arizona has a constitutional right to protect its citizens and defend its borders."

Sekulow predicts that Bolton's decision is the beginning of a lengthy legal battle that will have "tremendous" impact nationwide.

Gov. Brewer and Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, who authored the law, agree.

Both said they intend to continue the legal fight to protect Arizona's citizens.

"I wrote it to go to the Supreme Court," Pearce said, according to CNN. "I'm begging for that fistfight at the Supreme Court. We will win in a 5-4 decision and finally settle this problem."

Proponents of the law are consoled by the fact that at least some of the provisions – including the so-called "sanctuary cities," cities where laws or policies limit the enforcement of federal law on illegal immigrants, as well as making it a crime to hire day laborers – will take effect Thursday.

"We have a big problem with day laborers standing on the street disrupting traffic, disrupting communities, scaring people, and that part of the law withstood constitutionality," said Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh to Fox News. "We'll be able to clean up that mess."

Sen. Pearce, meanwhile, remarked that removing sanctuary city policies has been the No. 1 priority.

SB1070 supporters say the tough law on immigration is needed to fight the state's high crime rate, which they partly attribute to illegal immigrants. They also blame the federal government for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform and thus forcing the state to tackle the immigration problem on their own.

Most Americans, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll this week, support Arizona's new immigration law. Fifty-five percent of the respondents say they support the law, and 40 percent say they oppose it.

Despite being on the minority side, the Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice plans to continue to coordinate events to oppose the Arizona immigration law this weekend in more than a dozen cities. The National Weekend of Prayer and Action for Immigrant Justice activities include marches, rallies, prayer vigils, civil disobedience, educational forums, worship services, sermons, and homilies about immigrants.

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