Arizona lawmakers approved the most sweeping measure in the nation against illegal immigrants Tuesday, directing local police to now also become immigration officers, making the determination as to whether people are in the country legally or not a critical part of their daily brief.
The measure, decried as mandated racial profiling by immigrants rights groups, was long been sought by opponents of illegal immigration, and passed 35 to 21 in the state House of Representatives Tuesday. Republican Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.
Unsurprisingly, the police themselves are deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief's association opposing the bill, contending that it will erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.
Immigrant rights groups were utterly horrified, and contended that Arizona would be transformed into a police state. 'It's beyond the pale,' said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. 'It appears to mandate racial profiling.'
The new bill makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona. It also requires police officers, if they form a reasonable suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status.
Opponents asked how officers untrained in immigration law could determine who is in the country legally? They noted that though the bill says race cannot solely be used to form a suspicion about a person's legality, it implicitly allows it to be a factor.
'A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home,' said Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.
Privately, police officers on the ground now worry that the new bill will drive a wedge between themselves and Arizona's undocumented communities that will erode their abilities to pursue crime, question suspects or gain the community's trust.