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US Immigration Activists Protest Arizona Law

Demonstrators marched in cities across the United States Saturday to protest a new immigration law in the state of Arizona. The law is aimed at those who have entered the country illegally, but critics say it will lead to ethnic profiling of Arizona's Hispanics. The largest of the marches brought at least 50,000 people to the streets of Los Angeles.

Marchers chanted for immigration reform and listened to speakers who included the Archbishop of Los Angeles,Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony and singer Gloria Estefan.

The Cuban-American artist said she hoped the protest would send a loud message to Arizona and Washington.

The Arizona law makes it a crime to be in the state without valid immigrant papers, and allows police to question people they suspect may be illegal immigrants. The law is not yet in effect, and could be stalled by legal challenges.

An estimated 10 to 12 million people are thought to have entered the United States illegally, and most come from Latin America. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the American southwest, and immigration reform has become a potent political issue in the Hispanic community, where calls for crackdowns on illegal immigration have been viewed as anti-Hispanic.

Critics say the law will unfairly target Hispanics, including legal immigrants, naturalized citizens and second or third-generation residents of the state. The law's defenders say it forbids police from stopping someone based on ethnicity, and that changes made to the statute's wording this week make the point clear.

Arizona has a population of 6.6 million. Authorities believe the number includes more than 450,000 illegal immigrants, and Arizona governor Jan Brewer said the state had to take action because the federal government in Washington would not.

Immigration reform has been a contentious issue nationally. President Barack Obama had promised to tackle it in his first 100 days in office, but he said this week there may not be an appetite in Congress to deal with the issue after a tough legislative season, which included passage of a controversial health care reform bill.

Related Report by VOA's Daniela Schrier