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Tough Arizona immigration law rattles state's Latinos (+video)

The Arizona immigration law has led some illegal immigrants to move elsewhere. But those who remain, as well as law-abiding Latinos, are worried about discrimination and even indiscriminate immigration sweeps.

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In his family's department stores along the US-Mexican border in Nogales, Ariz., longtime businessman Bruce Bracker says business dropped 50 percent after SB 1070 passed and has picked up only slightly since. His customers come mostly from northern Mexico. "It turned Mexicans away from coming into Arizona to shop," he says.

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In Arizona, where 30 percent of residents are Latino, the controversial new law has never been in full effect. A ruling from a federal judge in July 2010 put the kibosh on more than a dozen provisions, including the most controversial, which requires police officers to detain, "when practicable," people they reasonably suspect are in the US illegally. A requirement that people carry immigration papers with them is also on hold.

In heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, where Arizona's long-established Latinos and recent immigrants may live side by side, residents are particularly sensitive about the possibility of indiscriminate immigration sweeps under a fully implemented SB 1070.

In Chandler, whose agricultural fields long have lured immigrant workers, the law rekindles memories of a searing July in 1997 when local police and federal agents swooped in and arrested 432 illegal immigrants – plus several Latino citizens and legal residents.

The raid, which became known as the Chandler Roundup, provoked an outcry from activists. Arizona's attorney general later concluded that authorities had racially profiled residents and violated their rights.

"They were stopping Hispanics who were born and raised in America that didn't even speak Spanish" and demanding proof of legal status, Mr. Montoya recalls.

Mary Romero, a professor at Arizona State University who has written about the roundup, says SB 1070 legitimizes the type of aggressive immigration enforcement seen in 1997 in Chandler.

"Racial profiling is already being used in Arizona, and this is going to strengthen it even more," says the professor, who specializes in social justice issues.

Chandler has since acted to regain the trust of Latino residents, says Leah Powell, the city's community resources diversity manager. Police officers received extensive training and worked to fortify ties with Latino residents.

"It was a way of beginning the healing process with the community after the roundup," she adds.

Newcomers may know little about the roundup, but longtime residents such as Gabriel Arreola remember, and SB 1070 makes him think immigration sweeps could return. He knew individuals and families who left town soon after the law passed, although in some cases it was because they lost their jobs during the recession and faced foreclosure on their homes. Some still in Chandler now stay mostly indoors or shop at night to avoid encounters with police, he adds.

"These are tough times for us Latinos," says Mr. Arreola, who worked illegally in Arizona for years before becoming a legal resident.

At the labor center behind the church, González helps Arreola and other laborers secure work. To him, everyone is equal. He doesn't ask who's legal and who's not, saying that's a matter for the workers and those who hire them.

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