Arizona's law generally requires state and local officers to question a person's immigration status if there's a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. It bars the use of race, color, or national origin as the basis for triggering immigration questions, but civil rights groups argue that officers will still assume that illegal immigrants look Hispanic.
The bill, signed in April, is to take effect July 29, and about 17 states may consider similar legislation. In Pennsylvania, State Reps. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) and Harry Readshaw (D., Allegheny) have proposed a bill modeled on Arizona's.
In New Jersey, the Senate has passed a resolution condemning Arizona's bill. Protesters, however, say they want to be vigilant.
"Instead of reacting to something that happens, we are trying to be proactive and show authorities that this is something that would be harmful to the New Jersey community," said Fernando Treviño-Martinez, state director of Democracia Ahora.
Democracia Ahora, a national group that focuses on voter registration and other issues in the Latino community, was the primary sponsor of Camden's demonstration. More than 40 religious, community, and civic organizations sponsored the protests around the state, according to an e-mail from organizers.
"Everyone is struggling at some point - financial problems, or housing problems, or work problems - and it's easy to look at undocumented immigrants as the ones who are causing the problems. . . . This does not represent the best of who we are," said Msgr. Bob McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Parish in Camden.
Also Thursday, President Obama called the Arizona law an understandable by-product of public frustration with the government's inability to tighten the immigration system. But he said it was ill-conceived and divisive and would put undue pressure on local authorities. Opponents have challenged the measure as unconstitutional and have asked that a federal court in Arizona block it from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton plans to hear arguments on the request this month.
"All roads lead to the ballot box; otherwise, it's just a lot of noise," said Jorge Mursuli, president and chief executive officer of Democracia Ahora, in an interview Thursday. At the Camden rally, he said, "The anti-immigrant law in Arizona it is not only anti-Latino, but it is undoubtedly un-American."
Jovaan Torres, 19, of Pennsauken, a volunteer with Democracia Ahora, said, "It's not only a Latino problem. It's a minority problem."
Torres said he was afraid that since he resembled incoming Haitian refugees, his legal status could be questioned.
Mursuli said he would be ready if an official ever asked for his "papers." His response: "You want my college diploma? Do you want my property deed? Do you want my birth certificate? I am an American citizen, and unless I break a law, don't you dare stop me to ask me for them."
Contact staff writer Jen Wulf
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This article contains information from the Associated Press.