Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed into law a new state immigration bill that President Barack Obama called “misguided” hours earlier.
Brewer, saying that the state had been “more than patient waiting for Washington to act” on the issue of illegal immigration, said that the bill would protect Arizona citizens without violating individuals’ constitutional rights.
The sweeping legislation makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants.
At a press conference to announce her decision to sign the bill, the Arizona governor countered the claim of opponents who have said that the law essentially legalizes racial profiling.
“I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona,” Brewer said.
Obama warned earlier Friday that the law “threaten[s] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”
He said he’s instructed the Justice Department to examine he Arizona bill to see if it’s legal, and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level — or leave the door open to “irresponsibility by others.”
Brewer was under intense pressure from anti-illegal immigration groups and lawmakers in her own party to sign the bill.
The bill’s Republican sponsor, state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said Obama and other critics of the bill were “against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law.”
Pearce said the legislation would remove “political handcuffs” from police and help drive illegal immigrants from the state.
“Illegal is illegal,” said Pearce, a driving force on the issue in Arizona. “We’ll have less crime. We’ll have lower taxes. We’ll have safer neighborhoods. We’ll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We’ll have smaller classrooms.”
Hundreds of Hispanics protested the legislation at the State Capitol complex on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who opposes the measure, said he’s closing his Arizona offices at noon Friday after his staff in Yuma and Tucson were flooded with calls this week, some from people threatening violent acts and shouting racial slurs.
Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the state with the most illegal border crossings, with the harsh, remote desert serving as the gateway for thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans.
Other provisions of the bill allow lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws, and make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.
The bill takes effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends.
Brewer faces a contested Aug. 24 Republican primary election, and one of her opponents, State Treasurer Dean Martin, had called on her to sign the legislation.
Also, the March 27 shooting death of rancher Bob Krentz on his property in southeastern Arizona brought illegal immigration and border security into greater focus in the state. Authorities believe Krentz was killed by an illegal border crosser.
Since the shooting, Brewer and other officeholders and candidates have toured the state’s border with Mexico. On Thursday, she ordered a reallocation of state National Guard and law enforcement resources and called on the federal government to deploy National Guard troops.
Arizona has previously passed a variety of get-tough measures dealing with illegal immigration.
Brewer’s predecessor, Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who is now President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, vetoed proposals similar to the bill just approved by the Legislature.
But she signed a 2007 law that imposes sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Other state laws make human smuggling a state crime and restrict illegal immigrants’ eligibility for public services.
The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund said the bill before Brewer is unconstitutional because regulation of immigration is a federal responsibility.
Others who urged Brewer to veto the bill included Catholic bishops, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for governor. Mexico’s embassy also has voiced concerns about racial profiling.
A Phoenix Law Enforcement Association representative acknowledged that racial profiling can occur but said fears associated with the bill are unfounded.
“We’re not targeting any particular group,” said Levi Bolton, a retired police detective. “Cops are not here to do these things to you.”
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