The House in Arizona Tuesday passed what would be the strictest immigration law in the United States. It now awaits the signature of Governor Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it.
The bill allows police to check the immigration status of a person if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is an illegal alien. Currently, police can only inquire about someone's immigration status if they are a suspect in a crime. The bill would make it a misdemeanor to lack the proper immigration paperwork.
"It's beyond the pale," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "It appears to mandate racial profiling."
The bill's author, however, has a different take. State Sen. Russell Pearce, said it simply "takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job."
The Mexico-Arizona border is the most popular entry point in the U.S. for illegal immigrants. It has been most aggressive in passing laws to battle the problem. "It makes sense that they would be the first to do it since they're ground zero for illegal immigration," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates tougher immigration enforcement.
Krikorian added that he doubted the law would be used much. "Obviously, their prosecutors aren't going to go out and prosecute every illegal alien," he said. "It gives police and prosecutors another tool should they need it."
But the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups say it is a tool that is not necessary. They vow to sue to block the bill if Brewer signs it.
"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 ACLU of Arizona.