Sharpton said that just as freedom riders battled segregation in the 1960s, he would organize “freedom walkers” to challenge the Arizona bill that requires police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.
“We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest,” Sharpton said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the immigration bill Friday. It will take effect in late July or early August.
President Barack Obama has called the new law “misguided” and has instructed the Justice Department to examine it to see if it’s legal. Civil rights advocates have vowed to challenge the law in court, saying it would lead to racial profiling.
But Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion someone is in the U.S. illegally.
Supporters of the law say Arizona’s example will force the federal government to take steps to seal the border.
The activists who joined Sharpton at a news conference in lower Manhattan said they would support legal challenges that will be filed in Arizona and they are prepared to commit civil disobedience if those efforts fail.
“We’re going to walk without documentation to show how unconstitutional this law is and how it’s really a violation of our civil rights,” said Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation. “It reminds me of Nazi Germany, when people were stopped in the street and told show your papers.”
Catherine Torres, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, said association members are ready to lend their legal expertise to fighting the law.
“It profiles an entire community,” she said.
Sharpton said he would also support calls for a boycott of Arizona. He called on civil rights and religious organizations not to hold conventions in the state.