Despite her protestations, the law is directed at what Homeland Security estimates as 460,000 illegal immigrants in the state. The law authorizes police to ask people for their legal status without probable cause. She said the state had been "more than patient waiting for Washington to act."
Hours earlier, President Obama said the law is "misguided."
Obama warned that the law "threaten[s] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."
He said he's instructed the Justice Department to examine the Arizona bill to see if it's legal, and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level — or leave the door open to "irresponsibility by others."
The legislation makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are here illegally. It also makes it illegal to hire an illegal immigrant although there is sanctions in an existing law directed at those who employ day laborers.
The bill's Republican sponsor, state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said Obama and other critics of the bill were "against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law."
"Illegal is illegal," said Pearce. "We'll have less crime. We'll have lower taxes. We'll have safer neighborhoods. We'll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We'll have smaller classrooms."
Hundreds of Hispanics protested the legislation at the State Capitol complex on Thursday.
Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva closed his Tucson and Yuma offices today in protest. On Tuesday he told Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown show he was organizing a national boycott against the state because of the new law he expected to be signed by the governor. A similar boycott convinced the state 10 years ago to honor Martin Luther King's birthday in accordance with the national law in order for the state to hold a Super Bowl game.
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, support the anti-immigrant legislation and have asked the Obama administration to send more troops to guard the porous border.
Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat now head of Homeland Security, signed a 2007 law that imposes sanctions against employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Other state laws make human smuggling a state crime and restricts illegal immigrants' eligibility for public services.
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