Arizona’s top cop vows to fight any U.S. bid to quash immigration law

As opponents of Arizona’s tough new immigration law prepare a weekend of protests, the state’s chief attorney vowed Friday to “fight back vigorously” if the Obama administration files legal action to stop its implementation.

Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said he met Friday with a Justice Department official, who informed him of possible legal action and asked for his input. Speaking at a Phoenix news conference, Goddard said he urged the administration not to sue, because five other legal challenges are pending. The law, set to take effect July 29, would require police to determine whether people they stop are in the country illegally.

Addressing concerns about racial profiling, Goddard also said he told the Justice Department official that Arizona police would enforce the law in a “fair and highly professional manner.” The state is preparing a 90-minute video to train 16,000 police officers on the legal and constitutional standards involved in implementing the law, he said.

A federal lawsuit, Goddard said, would detract from efforts to fight crime and secure the border against illegal immigration, which surged 70% in Arizona from 2000 to 2008. Several polls have shown widespread support for the law in Arizona and nationwide.

“We need solutions from Washington, not more lawsuits,” Goddard said.

Hannah August, a Justice Department spokeswoman, stressed that Arizona officials were not told there would definitely be a federal lawsuit and that department officials were in the state primarily to “ask questions and listen and discuss” the matter with authorities.

“We continue to have concerns that the law drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve and are examining it to see what options are available to the federal government,” she said.

In a series of Memorial Day weekend events, immigrant rights advocates are preparing to march in Arizona, debate new legislative strategies in an emergency meeting there and protest against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Los Angeles.

Busloads of more than 200 labor, religious and civil rights activists left Los Angeles on Friday for Phoenix, where they plan to join as many as 50,000 others in protesting the law.

On Sunday, more than 100 leaders from major Latino organizations will convene in Phoenix to debate new strategies for winning some kind of immigration reform this year. They are close to pushing a new approach as hopes dim for passage of comprehensive legislation that would overhaul key pieces of the entire system and legalize the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized migrants.

Many members of the National Latino Congress, which represents more than 500 organizations, have become impatient with the Senate’s failure to introduce a comprehensive bill and will debate shifting toward an incremental strategy pushing smaller measures, according to Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonprofit public policy analysis organization.

Activists are particularly pushing measures to grant legal status to undocumented college students and farmworkers, both of which are backed by powerful interests.

The so-called Dream Act, which would offer legal status to undocumented youths who attend college or join the military, is now included in the Pentagon’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2010-12 as a way to maintain the nation’s all-volunteer military. And agribusiness has teamed up with the United Farm Workers union, along with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to push a bill to provide a stable supply of legal farm workers.

Times staff writer Richard Serrano contributed to this report.