Conflict Intensifies Over Arizona Immigration Law

In Arizona, people are still digesting news that the state has passed the country's strictest immigration law. It requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of those they suspect could be in the country illegally.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And as we've just heard, Arizona has moved to the center of the immigration debate. In the few days since Governor Jan Brewer signed the country's toughest immigration law, Arizona has been praised and pilloried. It's seen dozens of protests against the measure and even racially insensitive vandalism at the state capitol building.

Coming up, we'll hear what the police chief in Tucson makes the new law which he'll have to enforce, but first, NPR's Ted Robbins is in Tucson with public reaction.

TED ROBBINS: I stationed myself in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Tucson and asked people what they thought of the new state immigration law. No explanation necessary, everyone had something to say.

Ms. BERNADETTE GENOA(ph): Well, I think it's terrible. I really do. People have just gotten so afraid of everything.

Mr. TODD BURKOWSKI(ph): I don't know. I'm worried. This doesn't make us look very good. You know, this looks bad.

Mr. STEVE HOLBROOKE(ph): It's good.

ROBBINS: And you'd be happy if the state have no illegal immigrants in it?

Mr. HOLBROOK: I'm sure every state would.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: Everybody would.

ROBBINS: Bernadette Genoa, Todd Burkowski and Steve Holbrooke. Holbrooke is a native Arizonan. He represents the majority of likely voters who said in a poll that they support the law. That poll was taken before Governor Jan Brewer signed it. Holbrooke hopes the immigration measure overcomes court challenges to take effect because he says it will help rid the state of criminals.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: The country was built on laws. If they're here illegally, they're breaking the law.

ROBBINS: So what good do you hope will come out of the law? This new one?

Mr. HOLBROOKE: The ones that are here illegally will either be prosecuted, sent back home or make them legal. How many of them come over here that have criminal backgrounds, criminal records, come over here do their crimes and go back home?

ROBBINS: No one knows how many illegal immigrants commit other crimes. Everyone agrees, though, that it's a minority. Those opposed to the law, like Elizabeth Goode(ph), say it paints everyone with the same brush, and who can tell who's who.

Ms. ELIZABETH GOODE: The police has no training in this area. I think it's just asking for racial profiling.

ROBBINS: Goode came from the Netherlands. She's been a U.S. citizen for two years. She thinks illegal immigrants should be allowed to work legally and pay for the services they use.

Ms. GOODE: I'm for them coming in. There is a semi-legal status, like a work permit. Pay into their taxes and help the system. Right now, they're illegal. They don't pay taxes, and we support them in the hospital.

ROBBINS: Then there are folks like Teresa Martinez(ph), who spoke with me from her car. Regardless of whether the law is good or bad, she worries about the damage it's doing to the state's reputation.

Ms. TERESA MARTINEZ: I think the rest of the country is looking at us like, what are they thinking in Arizona?

ROBBINS: Martinez would prefer the state concentrated on improving education and fixing its budget problems. When it comes to immigration, though, everyone for, against or unsure of the new law agrees on one thing, the federal government should be doing more to secure the border and control who is in the country.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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