Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Arizona passes strict illegal immigration act

By Nicholas Riccardi
April 13, 2010 | 2:49 p.m.

Reporting from Denver
Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what foes and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against undocumented immigrants, making it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona and allowing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.

The measure, long sought by opponents of illegal immigration, passed in the state House of Representatives. The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who has not spoken publicly about the issue, is expected to sign the bill.

The bill's author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, said the law simply "takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job."

But police were deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief's association opposed the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.

Immigrant rights groups were horrified, and contended that Arizona had just been transformed into a police state.

"It's beyond the pale," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "It appears to mandate racial profiling."

The bill prevents any government agency from formulating policies to prevent enforcement of immigration laws and permits citizens to sue if they believe a law enforcement agency is failing to enforce the law.

It requires law enforcement officers who have a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant to determine that person's immigration status "when practicable." Previously, police who wanted to inquire about immigration status could only do it after stopping people for possibly violating other laws.

A provision in the bill states that race or ethnicity cannot be the sole grounds for asking about immigration status, but civil rights groups note that authorities are not barred from using them along with other factors that raise suspicions.

The measure also makes it illegal to solicit work as a day laborer or to hire day laborers.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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