AZ Senate Passes One of Nation’s Toughest Immigration Bills

The Arizona state Senate has passed legislation that requires law enforcement officers to question people whom they suspect of being undocumented immigrants—but that opponents say legalizes racial profiling.

The bill, which was approved by the Arizona House of Representatives last week, was passed by the Senate in a 17-11 vote. Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign it into law.

Considered to be some of the most stringent immigration-related legislation in the nation, the new bill requires that immigrants to the United States carry their alien registration documents at all times. And it allows police broad authority to stop and question anyone they might suspect of being in the country illegally. It also allows police to target those who either transport illegal immigrants or hire them as day laborers.

Additionally, the bill contains a provision that allows Arizona residents to sue local governments if they feel that the law isn’t being adequately enforced.

Under current law, law enforcement officers can only question a person’s immigration status if they are suspected in another crime. Critics say that the new provisions will create an atmosphere of racial profiling, and that they effectively turn police officers into Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, taking them away from their other duties.

“The bill opens the doors to racial profiling with the provision that allows an officer to ask for citizenship papers from someone who only looks illegal,” said Senate Democratic leader Jorge Luis Garcia in a written statement. Garcia and other opponents of the bill, some of whom have compared this measure to Jim Crow laws, also fear that the court system will become overloaded with lawsuits as a result of the bill.

Another concern is that any immigrant who is in the country illegally will be reluctant to report crimes against them, such as assault, robbery, domestic violence or on-the-job abuse, for fear that they will be forced into ICE custody and subsequently deported. In fact, said State Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who voted against the bill, the abuser could even sue law enforcement for failing to investigate the status of the victim. Additionally, said Sinema, the bill does little if anything to target immigrants—legal or illegal—who are actually committing crimes.

Republicans, however, are largely in favor of the measure. The author of the immigration bill, Republican state Senator Russell Pearce, said in an interview that this bill allows lawmakers to “take the handcuffs off of law enforcement [and] put them on the bad guy. Illegal is not a race, it’s a crime.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vowed that it will challenge the law’s constitutionality in court if it is enacted, as has the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other pro-immigrant groups..

Supporters of the bill say that Governor Brewer is expected to sign it when it lands on her desk, sometime early next week. If she does so, the law will not go into effect until August, at the latest.

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