PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) - A few hundred supporters of a new Arizona law that cracks down on illegal immigrants rallied in central Phoenix Saturday, as tensions over the measure simmered.
Around 200 to 300 activists from several states, some with placards that read "No amnesty" and "Secure our borders now," gathered outside the state capitol to support the law, a weakened version of which came into effect Thursday.
"We are here to fully support Arizona, support the Arizona citizens and support the United States citizens who would benefit from a similar law across the nation," said Katrina Pierson, 34, a conservative Tea Party activist who traveled from Texas to attend the event.
Arizona's Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure three months ago to try to drive nearly half a million illegal immigrants from the state and stem the flow of human and drug smugglers over the border from Mexico.
It drew wide popular support in Arizona and across the United States but was opposed by President Barack Obama and human rights groups. A federal judge blocked the most intrusive elements hours before it came into effect.
Tensions over the law have inflamed a decades-long debate over immigration, which is playing into elections in November as Obama's Democrats fight to retain control of Congress.
A few dozen Hispanic and rights activists staged a counter protest Saturday. Supporters and opponents of the Arizona law shouted at one another across a police line but there were no arrests.
Wednesday, U.S. District Court judge Susan Bolton blocked the law's most controversial elements, arguing that immigration matters are the federal government's responsibility. The ruling handed a victory to Obama, who is trying to take control of the issue.
Lawyers for Arizona and Republican Governor Jan Brewer asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to lift an injunction on the law and grant a swift appeal. The court denied the request for an expedited hearing Friday and set a November court date.
"I think the governor should take this appeal right the way to the Supreme Court," said Anita Hynds, a retiree who traveled from Orange County, California, for the rally.
Saturday, Obama warned U.S. leaders not to use the divisive issue of illegal immigration as a way to gain power and name recognition, in an interview with CBS television.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by John O'Callaghan)