Supporters of the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigration, on the verge of approval in the Arizona Legislature, said the state law is necessary to help stamp out crime and keep citizens and law enforcement officers safe.
The measure would make it a crime to be in the country illegally and require local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are here illegally.
Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months, and fined $2,500.
Civil rights activists warn Arizona is inviting rampant racial profiling and police-state tactics.
“It’s giving police officers a green light to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU and immigrant rights groups are demanding Republican Gov. Jan Brewer veto the measure if it reaches her. She has not announced if she will sign it, but said she is a strong supporter of pragmatic immigration laws. Her predecessor, Democrat Janet Napolitano, vetoed similar proposals.
Current law in most states doesn’t require police to ask the immigration status of those they encounter. Many departments prohibit officers from asking for fear immigrants won’t cooperate in other investigations.
The law would also crack down on employment for illegal immigrants by prohibiting people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day labor on street corners. A judge could fine a city for not enforcing the immigration law vigorously enough.
The new measure would be just the latest crackdown of its kind in Arizona, which has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants.
Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce sponsored the law. A former cop who can list local officers killed or wounded by illegal immigrants, Pearce has been the force behind Arizona’s new measures, including a law punishing companies caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
Police unions support the new law, denying officers would engage in profiling. It is opposed by police chiefs, who worry it would be too costly, distract them from more serious problems, and sow such distrust among immigrants that they would not cooperate with officers investigating other crimes.
Legal immigrants fear it would give officers easy excuses to stop them, and even U.S. citizens could find themselves detained if they can’t prove their legal status.
“When they come up with these things, it doesn’t matter if I’m here legally,” said Jose Melendez, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Guadalajara, Mexico. “If they see a Mexican face and a Mexican name, they’ll ask for papers.”