Arizona Passes Tough Illegal Immigration Law

Arizona is enhancing its already hard-line stance against illegal immigration with a new law that makes the state the toughest in the nation for illegal immigrants. But will the measure withstand legal challenges from civil libertarians who claim it's unconstitutional?

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Washington is talking once again about tackling illegal immigration, though Democrats and Republican have very different ideas on what to do. Some states now are looking to rush into that void. Arizona's legislature has passed what is widely believed to be the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the nation. NPR's Ted Robbins has the details.

TED ROBBINS: Let's call it the latest in Arizona's zero tolerance campaign against illegal immigration. Republican state representative Carl Seel is one of the new law's sponsors.

State Representative CARL SEEL (Republican, Arizona): We want to make the environment inhospitable for fraud, human traffickers and drug dealers.

ROBBINS: Compared with most states, Arizona's already inhospitable. It's a crime, for instance, for employers to knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The new law goes much further. Now, Arizona police and sheriff's deputies will have to question the legal status of anyone they stop if there's a reasonable suspicion that they're an illegal immigrant.

State Rep. SEEL: There are cities like Phoenix and Tucson that have police policies that actually tell the police officers, when you encounter an illegal alien in the routine course of your business - routine traffic stops, for example - that you are not to arrest them. You're just to let them go.

ROBBINS: Not anymore. Essentially, under the law everyone must have I.D. proving resident status or citizenship. Officers can use race as a factor in determining whether to question someone, though it can't be the only factor. Another section of the law deals with day labor. Illegal immigrants can now be arrested for soliciting work.

And a third portion of the law makes it a state crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, or even to be in the state illegally. That's already a federal crime, but Representative Seel says it's not being adequately enforced.

State Rep. SEEL: And when we perpetually allow drug dealers and human traffickers to gallivant across our border and use deadly force against our law enforcement, we have to do something about it.

ROBBINS: Support for the new law got a boost after the murder last month of an Arizona rancher, presumably by a Mexican drug smuggler, 20 miles in from the border. Still, some lawmakers opposed it, along with virtually every part of the immigrant rights community.

Jennifer Allen heads the Border Action Network. She says the law is mean-spirited, unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Ms. JENNIFER ALLEN (Director, Border Action Network): This bill is a fundamental - it's an enormous affront on the basic rights and dignity that every person has in the state of Arizona, in the United States, and around the world.

ROBBINS: There is no consensus on what the financial impact will be. Supporters say the new law will save Arizona money by cutting back on social services and education for illegal immigrants. Opponents say it will cost government far more than it saves.

Ms. ALLEN: It will, in fact, result in tens of millions of dollars of additional costs every single year for local law enforcement, for training, for the court system, for the jails. It will require bringing on new public defenders, new prosecutors.

ROBBINS: Jennifer Allen agrees that the new law will make Arizona inhospitable to immigrants - just another step in an obvious plan.

Ms. ALLEN: Tire people. Hit them left, hit them right, from in the front and from the back until people are literally exhausted, and run out of the state and run out of the country.

ROBBINS: Ten other states are reportedly looking at similar laws. First, though, the new Arizona law will have to survive a number of expected court challenges over its constitutionality.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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