PHOENIX - Leticia Espinoza's neighbor was ready to go. The illegal immigrant from Mexico was terrified of the Arizona law set to go into effect today that would have granted police officers unprecedented powers to stem illegal immigration.
Within an hour of learning that a federal judge had blocked enforcement of the most controversial aspects of the law, Espinoza said her neighbor came running into her house.
"She screamed, 'I'm not leaving anymore,' " Espinoza said. "She's such a great person, so I'm happy she's staying."
The law, known as S.B. 1070 after the bill that created it, would have required police officers to question the immigration status of suspects stopped for another offense if there is a "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally.
Word of the judge's ruling spread quickly, prompting passionate reactions here on both sides of the debate.
Rick Gray, a member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots, said he was not surprised by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's decision. He paraphrased a quote from Mahatma Gandhi to explain the position he and other supporters find themselves in: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win," he said.
Gray said he remains stunned at the federal government's inaction over illegal immigration. Bolton's decision Wednesday, based in part on a challenge filed by President Obama's Department of Justice, only reinforced what he called a troubling double standard.
"They don't want to do their job, but they don't want us to do it," said Gray, who is running for the state Legislature. "It's illogical and disappointing."
Phoenix resident Tom Trujillo, 68, called the ruling a "travesty."
"I was hoping it would be upheld and our country would be protected," he said. "I'm hoping at some point the courts will uphold S.B. 1070 or that the federal government will take action and protect and secure our borders."
In heavily Hispanic western Phoenix, celebrations were muted, but the sense of relief was widespread.
Imelda De La Cruz said people had grown anxious in the three months since Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law.
"People were scared to take their children to school. They were scared to go to the store," said De La Cruz, 41, a Mexico native who is now a U.S. resident.
Maria Teresa Gonzalez said a local grocery store had started delivering groceries to people's homes because they wanted to minimize their time outside the house.
"A lot of people were doing that. It was a growing business," said Gonzalez, 50, a legal U.S. resident who has several cousins who are illegal immigrants.
Ramon Sanchez said he was relieved by Bolton's decision to block the law but distraught about the Hispanics who fled the state out of fear.
He said many of his neighbors had packed their cars with as much as they could, sold as many of their remaining belongings as possible and headed to Mexico or other U.S. states.
Sanchez, a 43-year-old construction worker, doubted most of them could afford the move back to Phoenix. "It's just too expensive to do that twice," he said.
Irasema Peralta said her brother-in-law, an illegal immigrant, told her he will still pursue his plans to move to California next month because Arizona had grown too hostile to Hispanics.
"The damage has been done," said Flaviano Vazquez, a construction worker who has just begun the process of becoming a legal U.S. resident. "There was already racism before this law. This has elevated it."
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