ROSS D. FRANKLIN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(Photo) Protesters rallied in front of the Arizona House in Phoenix on Tuesday, denouncing the state's plan to widen immigration enforcement. .
..Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what opponents and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants, directing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.
The measure, long sought by illegal-immigration opponents, passed 35-21 in the state House of Representatives.
The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.
The bill's author, state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican, said it 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 chiefs' association opposing the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.
Immigrant-rights groups were horrified and contended that Arizona had 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, SB 1070, makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona. It also requires police officers, if they form a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status.
Currently, officers can ask about someone's immigration status only if the person is a suspect in another crime. The bill allows officers to avoid the immigration issue if it would be impractical or would hinder another investigation.
Citizens could sue to compel police agencies to comply with the law, and no city or agency could formulate a policy directing its workers to ignore the law - a provision that advocates say prevents so-called sanctuary orders that police not ask about people's immigration status.
The bill cements the position of Arizona - whose border with Mexico is the most popular point of entry for illegal immigrants into the United States - as the state most aggressively using its own laws to fight illegal immigration. In 2006, the state passed a law that would dissolve companies with a pattern of hiring illegal immigrants.
Last year it made it a crime for a government worker to give improper benefits to an illegal immigrant.
Mark Krikorian at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates tougher immigration enforcement, said the legislation was a logical extension of the state's previous enforcement efforts.
"It makes sense that they would be the first to do it, since they're ground zero for illegal immigration," he said.
Krikorian added that he doubted the law would be used much. "Obviously, their prosecutors aren't going to go out and prosecute every illegal alien," he said. "It gives police and prosecutors another tool should they need it."
Opponents, however, raised the specter of officers untrained in immigration law being required to determine who is in the country legally. They noted that although the bill says race cannot solely be used to form a suspicion about a person's legality, it implicitly allows it to be a factor.
"A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.
The ACLU and other groups have vowed to sue to block the bill from taking effect if Brewer signs it.
They note that a federal court struck down a New Hampshire law in 2005 that said illegal immigrants were trespassing, declaring that only the federal government has the authority to enforce immigration. Another provision of the Arizona law, which makes day laborers illegal, violates the First Amendment, critics contend.
Aww, the Libs are already whining!
On StarNet: Read more about border-related issues in Brady McCombs' blog, Border Boletín, at go.azstarnet.com/borderboletin