Yesterday, the Arizona state Senate voted 17-11 to pass what some call the country's strictest and most controversial immigration bill, requiring police to question people about their status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally. The bill would also allow individual lawsuits to be brought against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws and make it illegal for employers to hire or knowingly transport illegal immigrants for day labor.
Proponents of the bill say it will aid the police in cracking down on violent offenders who cross the border illegally. The Associated Press reports Arizona state Senate member Republican Russell Pearce of Mesa, Arizona, who sponsored the bill, claims it will take handcuffs off police and put them on violent criminals. Although widely supported by Arizona Republicans, Sen. John McCain sounded like he was hedging his bets when he called the bill a "tool that I think needs to be used." His office later told the AP that wasn't an endorsement.
Those opposing the bill, including the Mexican embassy, say it will lead to racial profiling. The AP reports the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has indicated they will challenge the law in court if the governor signs it into law. "The bill is so vague that it encourages investigation and arrest of people ... who essentially have done nothing wrong but because of their racial profile," said Gladys Limon, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based group. Other legal challenges may rest on the bill putting a federal responsibility (immigration) into the hands of local and state law enforcement.
Arizona law enforcement groups are split on their positions, with a union for Phoenix Police Department officers supporting it and a statewide association of police chiefs opposed.
According to the AP, current law in Arizona, and most other states, doesn't require police to ask about the immigration status of those they encounter, and some police officials say allowing such questions would deter immigrants from cooperating in other investigations leading to more, not less crime.