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April 27th, 2010

Arizona Immigration Law Opens Up Old Wounds, New Battles


Arizona, home to nearly a half million undocumented people and the most illegal U.S. border crossings, has enacted a broad new law making it a crime to be an undocumented person there and requiring all people suspected of questionable status to carry proof.


Under Arizona’s recently passed immigration law, anyone who can’t provide documents showing they are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed or fined.

The law, the most stringent yet of any state, orders police officers to stop anyone suspected of “illegal status” and imposes new regulations for anyone who cannot prove their citizenship. Those unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be in the United States could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. The law also threatens to go after governmental agencies that fail to enforce any existing immigration laws.

President Obama called the law “misguided” and feared it could serve “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Arizona has immigration issues

There are an estimated 460,000 undocumented/illegal immigrants in Arizona, and the most illegal border crossings in the country. (People on both sides of the immigration debate use different words to define people who have entered the country without permission: “undocumented” immigrants vs. “illegal” immigrants.)

Tensions there grew last month when rancher Bob Krentz, whose land sits along an area used by people crossing from Mexico, was shot to death. Police said the main suspect is an illegal migrant, but the case remains open.

The new rules were pushed through by Republicans, who hold the majority of seats in the Arizona Legislature.

Will new law lead to racial profiling?

Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona’s 7th district, told the NewsHour that Latinos are officially targeted by the law.

“I will be driving down the street without a wallet, and I stand the chance of getting arrested, put in jail and fined” he said. “That is where the profiling will happen. And that’s the discriminatory aspect that has got so many of us in Arizona completely opposed to this bill.”

NewsHour political analyst and syndicated columnist Mark Shields said “the bitterness and the vindictiveness of the law in Arizona is remarkable.”

But Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer points out that the law calls for new law enforcement training and that the majority of people in Arizona support the law. “This bill supports law enforcement and safe neighborhoods and strengthens the laws of our state,” Brewer said at a signing ceremony. “It protects all of us, every Arizona citizen and everyone here in our state lawfully.”

A recent poll showed that 70 percent of Arizona voters supported the measure — even though 53 percent said it could lead to civil rights violations.

Immigration reform and the law

Both supporters and critics of the law say it is a response to the federal government’s inability to set a national immigration policy. But with members of both chambers of Congress up for re-election in November and drug-related violence spreading across the Mexico border, politicians are nervous about taking a stand on such a controversial issue.

Lawmakers are nervous about taking on the controversial immigration issue with midterm elections just around the corner.

“I just don’t think this is the right time to take up this issue with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told “Fox News Sunday,” adding that high unemployment must be addressed first.

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd disagreed, pointing to the new Arizona law as a reason the federal government must act. “The idea that state by state would start developing its own immigration laws in the country — imagine what a patchwork that might look like,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s demanding a national answer to immigration policy, so before this even gets further out of hand, we’ve got to step up and do the job.”

Former presidential candidate and Arizona senator, John McCain, who is a long-standing proponent of immigration reform, surprised some analysts by endorsing the law, telling reporters: “I think it’s a good tool…It’s a tool that needs to be used.”

NewsHour political analyst and New York Times columnist David Brooks said he doubts federal legislation will happen soon since “the political climate really couldn’t be worse.”

Activists gear up for a protest and possible boycott

In the meantime, civil rights activists are preparing to protest.  The Rev. Al Sharpton called for civil action much like the freedom riders of the 1960s who helped desegregate the South. “We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest.

— Compiled by Lizzy Berryman for NewsHour Extra

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