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By Nick Oza, The Arizona Republic
Leticia Ruiz hugs granddaughter Angelina Ramirez after Phoenix service.
By Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic 

By 7 p.m. one recent evening, about 25 people slouched in metal folding chairs and recited the Hail Mary prayer in Spanish and, later, in English.


Dios te salve, Maria, llena eres de gracia,” they pray. Teens yell out their car windows at the group. But the eyes of those praying remain closed, heads bowed as they hear the intermittent “click” of each prayer bead as it falls. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee … ”


“Forty Days in the Desert” was orchestrated by Fernando Ruiz, a member of Mary’s Ministries, a Catholic group. He said he wanted to do something about Arizona’s immigration law, Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070).

The law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. It states that an officer engaged in a lawful stop can ask about a person’s legal status when reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the United States illegally.


Set to take effect July 29, the law already faces legal challenges from two police officers, other groups and the U.S. Justice Department, which says the law usurps the federal government’s “pre-eminent authority” under the Constitution to regulate immigration. On Friday, a challenge filed in federal court says training materials designed to teach police officers how to enforce the law give “vague and ill-defined factors” as reasons to question someone’s legal status.


Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer defends the law as necessary because, she says, the federal government has failed to secure the border. On Sunday, Brewer met privately with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Both are in Boston for the National Governors Association’s summer meeting.


Napolitano did not respond to a request for comment after the meeting, but Brewer said the two did not discuss the Justice Department lawsuit.


Ruiz said he believes the law was created out of fear amid the recession.


“Our country is suffering,” he said. “When people are scared, they say stupid things, hurtful things. You’ve just got to get beyond the rhetoric.”


Signs posted on the desolate corner where the group meets announce its intent: “To develop a family policy on immigration for Arizona and the United States.”


To draw participants and raise awareness, Ruiz launched Twitter and Facebook pages. The prayer group is set to finish its 40th day of the rosary a few days after SB 1070 is scheduled to take effect.


Peggy Oursland, a native of Phoenix who recently began attending the rosary prayers, said she has seen children worried that they will be forced to leave the country because of it.


“I would hate to be pushed out,” said Oursland, 50. “And I would hate to see it happen to them.”


From:                                                                                                                Contributing: The Associated Press