Arizona immigration law heads to court, with $1.2 million war chest

First of seven lawsuits against tough Arizona immigration law is heard Thursday in federal court in Phoenix. Money from private donors across the US has flowed into a defense fund for the statute.

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    In this June 5, 2010, file photo, Judy Schulz, right, cheers as her husband Richard Schulz, left, both of Glendale, Ariz., joined hundreds supporting Arizona's new law on illegal immigration as they listen to speakers near the capitol in Phoenix. The Arizona immigration law faces one of several court challenges on Thursday.
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As Arizona heads to court Thursday to defend its tough new immigration law in the first of several legal challenges, it has the backing of many Americans who have opened their wallets to show support for the border state.

Contributions to Gov. Jan Brewer’s special legal defense fund now top $1 million, mostly in website donations of less than $100 pouring in from all over the country. Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida are the states with the most online donors.

As of Tuesday, website contributions totaled $1,104934.63 from 23,955 donors, according to the governor’s office. Additional mail-in donations totaled $93,084, with contributions still coming in, says Tasya Peterson, a Brewer spokeswoman. The average donation is about $46.

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The Republican governor set up the fund by executive order in late May to help the state defend its right to enforce the law, which requires local and state authorities to determine the status of suspects they believe to be in the country illegally. The law, which the governor signed in April, has spawned economic boycotts and seven lawsuits – including one by the US Department of Justice filed July 6 – that seek to stop the law, known locally as Senate Bill 1070, from going into effect July 29.

The financial contributions surged after the Obama administration filed its suit, reflecting opinion polls that show strong support for Arizona. In a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll released Monday, 51 percent of Americans favor the state's immigration law. Thirty four percent support the federal government’s case against the state.

Phoenix resident Carlie Murphy, a retiree who has lived in Arizona for five years, says she contributed $20 because the state is trying to address what the federal government has neglected. “Our federal government has not fulfilled its responsibility for a long, long time when it comes to illegal immigration,” she says.

Jeanne Kurucz and her husband, Andrew, of Garden Grove, Calif., donated $25 because they don’t think the federal government should be suing Arizona. “We stand behind Jan Brewer and we think that the government should close the borders,” Ms. Kurucz says.

Brewer and her backers say Arizona had to act because the federal government has failed to secure the border, but critics say the law will encourage racial profiling and is unconstitutional because enforcing immigration laws is a federal duty, not a state responsibility.

It is difficult to accurately estimate how much legal costs will total, says Paul Senseman, Brewer’s communications director. “It depends on many variables including the outcome of the cases, possible appeals, if new cases are filed, if the federal government continues to sue the state, etc.”

Arizona’s defense rests in the hands of private lawyers. Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who opposes the law, withdrew from representing the state in court after continuing clashes with Brewer, a Republican. Both are running for governor.

Brewer hired Snell & Wilmer LLC, a corporate law firm based in Phoenix, to defend the state. Chairman John Bouma says attorneys are working long hours on behalf of the state. Adjusted hourly rates for the state’s primary attorneys vary from $225 to $450 per hour, according to the firm’s contract with the state.

Thursday’s lawsuit before US District Judge Susan Bolton was filed by Phoenix police officer David Salgado. Various organizations, including immigrant-advocacy groups and the ACLU, filed subsequent legal challenges. The Justice Department suit contends that the law interferes with federal authority, and attorneys for both sides will argue that case before Judge Bolton on July 22. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph misidentified the plaintiff in the case being heard Thursday, July 15.)

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