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Arizona’s Immigration Bill Already Seeing Praise and Opposition

Arizona’s recently passed immigration bill, one of the toughest in the nation, has everyone talking. Following news of its approval by the state’s House yesterday, civil rights groups began condemning the law; anti-immigration groups began applauding it; and enforcement officers have mixed opinions — and most of this has to do with the law’s effects on illegal immigrants and non-white communities alike.

The Los Angeles Times reported last night:

For years Arizona’s government has tried to deter unlawful immigration with a consistent approach — make life for illegal immigrants so uncomfortable and uncertain that they will leave, or never come in the first place.

So this week, when the House of Representatives passed what’s viewed as the toughest state law against illegal immigration in the nation, it was the continuation of a pattern that has been widely popular in the state.

“When you make life difficult,” said state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the current bill and earlier hard-line measures, “most will leave on their own.”

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a non-profit organization that advocates stronger border security and and end to illegal immigration, rejoiced over Arizona’s bill in a press release yesterday, citing “self-deportation” as an effective means of reducing the number of immigrants in the country:

“SB1070 embodies the concept of ‘attrition through enforcement,’” continued Stein, “Making it tough for illegal aliens to live and work in Arizona means that those illegal aliens already living in the state are more likely to self-deport, and it certainly reduces the incentive to come. Arizona will soon have a law that both represents the interests of legal Arizonians and serves as model legislation for other states.”

Civil rights groups have already brought up the possibility of challenging the law’s constitutionality, even if it’s passed (The Washington Times reported that the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has vowed to challenge it in court). What seems to concern groups the most is the portion of the bill that allows officers to ask about a person’s immigration status and authorizes them to act on this if they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is illegal — many critics say this is racial profiling.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization, released this statement in a press release today:

If the bill survives substantial legal challenges, it will invite the racial profiling of Arizona residents who give police “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally. Pressure to engage in racial profiling will be even more intense because police will be operating under the threat of law suits from citizens who feel they are not sufficiently enforcing the law.

If it is enacted, it will be bad news for Arizona. Under this law, Police will not be able to count on Arizona’s large Latino and immigrant community to report crimes or serve as witnesses to crimes…

Activist groups aren’t the only ones worried about profiling and alienation of non-white populations. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said on Wednesday’s Doug Wright Show (via ksl.com) that the legislation allows for racial profiling and has raised concerns over the effect on legal immigrants and foreign-born citizens. “Because in order to get to those people, you have to ask anybody of color who looks like they might not be from this country,” he explained. “This sets law enforcement back 30 to 40 years.”

Vocal immigration opponent Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona probably doesn’t agree. He tweeted yesterday that his office will be ready to enforce new immigration laws, referring to a new program that provides nearly 900 deputies with training in detection and arrest of illegal immigrants. If and when the bill becomes law, no doubt Maricopa County will continue to arrest increasingly high numbers of immigrants.

Update: During a conference call this afternoon, several pro-immigrant rights organizations and religious groups discussed what they referred to as “disturbing developments” — Arizona’s Senate bill 1070 and today’s anti-smuggling initiatives in Phoenix and Tucson.

State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who voted against the bill, said it does nothing to target criminal and violent immigrants, instead jeopardizing the safety of Arizona communities. She brought up an interesting point: If an undocumented immigrant who is being assaulted or mistreated (think domestic violence, mistreatment of working immigrants) were to call the police to report an incident, that immigrant would be forced into custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would be deported for merely reporting abuse. In fact, the abuser could *sue *a law enforcement office for failing to check the legal status of the victim. Sinema said this creates fear among immigrant communities and limits the ability of officers to catch real criminals.

The call focused on what this would mean for all Arizona communities. According to Pablo Alvarez, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, “SB 1070 is quite literally intended to terrorize immigrant communities.” He said his organization’s lawyers are prepared to file a lawsuit if this bill becomes law.

Bishop Minerva Carcano of the United Methodist Church said this kind of anti-immigration legislation “encourages the same kind of attitude in other places.” It could encourage a “ripple effect.”

But Sinema reminded listeners that the bill has not passed yet. She said it is expected to be on the governor’s desk by early next week. The governor then has five days to either sign or veto the bill — she’s expected to sign it — and it would not be implemented until August, at the earliest.

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