Arizona illegal immigration bill: draconian or common sense?

A bill passed by the Arizona State Legislature takes aim at illegal immigration by directing police to look into the immigration status of anyone whom they have 'reasonable suspicion' to believe is in the country unlawfully.

By , Staff writer

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    Protesters march in front of the Arizona House building where legislators were voting on an immigration enforcement bill on Tuesday. The House passed the bill, which some say goes too far to crack down on illegal immigration.
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Arizona lawmakers on Wednesday approved some of the toughest immigration legislation in the US, heightening debate on how far is too far to go to curb illegal immigration, and prompting renewed calls for federal immigration reform.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which passed the state House of Representatives Tuesday and is expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona and directs police to determine immigration status if they are suspicious of criminal activity. Currently, officers can inquire about a person’s immigration status only if that person is a suspect in another crime.

Immigration reform groups see the approach as a logical expansion of state authority when, they say, the federal government is not doing its job. Immigrant rights groups call it far too severe, saying it would freeze any trust that exists between immigrant communities and local police departments, and could domino negatively to other states.

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“Arizona’s decision to advance such a draconian and highly questionable piece of legislation reveals the moral crisis our nation is facing as we confront options on how to best deal with illegal immigration and the millions of families who live and work in our midst,” said Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a statement. She warns that, if passed into law, the bill would open the state to a raft of racial profiling and wrongful arrest lawsuits.

But the legislation is warranted, say others. While illegal immigration has trailed off recently, high profile cases such as the killing of rancher Robert Krentz have raised public awareness. And, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the state has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of illegal immigrants living there between 2000 and 2009.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, responds simply that the measure is going to "take the handcuffs off of law enforcement and put them on the bad guys ... with compassion, but without apology.”

“Arizona’s SB 1070 is a no-nonsense, common-sense example of a state acting where the federal government is failing,” says Dustin Carnevale, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “This legislation is a reaction to the inaction of Washington with regard to border security and immigration enforcement.“

Mr. Carnevale says that SB 1070 is simply the “next logical step” in Arizona’s attempts to crack down on illegal immigration and protect its citizens. He points to a 2006 Arizona law that would penalize companies with a pattern of hiring illegal aliens, and a measure last year that made it a crime for a state worker to give improper benefits to an illegal alien.

“It’s no surprise that a state that has been hit the hardest – with $1.7 billion annually on illegal immigration and the recent tragic murder of [rancher] Robert Krentz – would produce such stringent legislation, “ says Carnevale.

But other groups have already picketed outside the Gov. Brewer's office in Phoenix, urging her to veto the bill, and they promise legal challenges and more. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), for instance, planned a demonstration outside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles Thursday, with legal analysts to spotlight why the bill is unconstitutional. And they say there will be giant marches in the street across the country as there were over the federal Sensenbrenner-sponsored immigration bill in 2006 and 2007.

“This is racial profiling of the most hurtful kind, and is way beyond the pale,” says Pablo Alvarado, director of NDLON. “This has been the strategy of the anti-immigration forces from the beginning… to make life so miserable for immigrants that they will self-deport. I promise there will be plenty of lawsuits over this and we won’t stop until this is declared unconstitutional. Everyone has to know we are not going to take this. We will fight.”

Ms. Salas's organization has been coordinating immigrant rights groups nationally to push for comprehensive, federal immigration reform.

“Arizona’s knee-jerk reaction should be a wake-up call to Washington," she says, "that a hodgepodge of immigration enforcement laws is likely to result in more chaos throughout the nation, not the long-term solution we all seek."

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

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