Arizona’s outdoor jails ready for new immigration law

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 United States-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 tomorrow, 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 access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them their immigration status.

“Our message for that day is: ‘Don’t comply, don’t buy’,” said activist Liz Hourican, whose group, CodePink, plans to block the driveway for immigration offices in downtown Phoenix.

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 yesterday scrambled 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 to hold the immigration sweep, regardless of any ruling by US 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.

“We don’t wait. We just do it,” he said. “If there’s a new law out, we’re going to enforce it.”

He said that the space he made in the complex of military surplus tents can handle 100 people, and that he will find room for more if necessary.

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 that untrained officers would not be allowed on the streets.

Many of the state’s 15,000 police officers have been watching a video released this month that says signs that might indicate a person is an illegal immigrant are speaking poor English, looking nervous or travelling in an overcrowded vehicle. It warned that race and ethnicity do not. Some agencies added extra materials, including a test, a role-playing exercise or a question-and-answer session with prosecutors.

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

Prosecutors are reminding officers that they are required to explain the circumstances of the original stop, why they suspected the person was an illegal immigrant and any comments made by the suspect.

A march from the state Capitol was planned at dawn, followed by a prayer service, a rally outside Arpaio’s office and a concert outside a Maricopa County jail.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A police training video says signs that might indicate a person is an illegal immigrant are:

* Speaking poor English
* Looking nervous
* Travelling in an overcrowded vehicle

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