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Pro-immigrant protesters arrested in Tucson after blocking buses

By Brad Poole

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Some 15 people were arrested in Arizona on Friday after immigration rights activists blocked two buses bringing suspected illegal immigrants to a federal courthouse in Tucson for deportation hearings, forcing a judge to cancel the proceedings.

The demonstration marked the second time this week that Tucson has been the scene of clashes between immigration rights activists and police. On Tuesday officers pepper-sprayed members of a crowd trying to prevent U.S. Border Patrol agents from detaining two people.

Arizona in recent years has been at the center of the debate over illegal immigration in the United States as its Republican leadership has taken a tough stance on illegal immigration.

In 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed a state law requiring police to question people they stop who they suspect of being in the country illegally about their immigration status.

Friday's action began when some 50 protesters blocked a Tucson street, preventing the two buses carrying suspected illegal immigrants from reaching the downtown federal courthouse.

About a dozen of the activists then laid down in front of the buses and linked arms inside PVC tubes, blocking the front wheels and remaining there for about five hours before Tucson police moved in to arrest them.

"We're just trying to make sure Operation Streamline doesn't happen today," said Jaye Hardin, a 20-year-old college student from Indiana who is studying in Arizona for three months.

She was referring to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program that requires the federal criminal prosecution of all unlawful border crossers.

Tucson Police Department spokesman Sergeant Chris Widmer said the protests forced a judge to halt the hearings. He could not immediately confirm the number of arrests at the scene.

Widmer said that Tuesday night's incident began when Tucson police officers making a traffic stop suspected that the driver and passenger were illegal immigrants and contacted the Border Patrol.

When Border Patrol officers detained the two people and tried to drive away with them in custody, a crowd blocked their vehicle. Four people were arrested in that incident, including the two suspected illegal immigrants.

(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)

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