Arizona Senate Candidate Defends Immigration Law

Former Republican U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging incumbent Arizona Sen. John McCain in his party's Senate primary, is dismissing criticism of the state's controversial immigration law passed this week.

"What you're seeing from them is more of a political reaction rather than a constitutional-based reaction," Hayworth told NPR's Michele Norris. "The fact is ... all it really does is empower the state to enforce existing federal immigration laws."

The immigration law, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed Monday, is exposing a rift in the GOP. Some GOP leaders have praised it, but prominent Republicans — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio and GOP strategist Karl Rove — have expressed concerns.

The law allows police to question people about their immigration status if there's any reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, and makes it a state crime if they are. Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government may go to court to challenge the law.

The law has also drawn criticism from many Arizona police chiefs who say it is confusing.

"It's going to cause some concerns for us," Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor told Norris on Monday. "As a local law enforcement chief, taking on the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement is something that we really don't have the resources to accomplish."

But Hayworth said there's a disconnect between the state's police officials and officers on the street.

"When you talk to the street cops or those on duty, you get a very different response," he said.

Hayworth also dismissed as "hyperbole" and "disinformation" the idea that the law allows anyone to be stopped on the street. He said the procedure will be similar to what exists when drivers are pulled over for traffic violations.

"To suggest that people walking down the street minding their own business will suddenly be accosted by law enforcement officers in some sort of low-budget grade B movie request, 'Your papers, please' ... I believe is hyperbole in the extreme," he said.

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