Legalizing Racial Profiling? Arizona Immigration Bill Draws Fire

Gov. Brewer soon will decide fate of bill that makes being undocumented a crime.

ByABC News
April 21, 2010, 3:52 PM

April 22, 2010 — -- An Arizona state bill that would give law enforcement greater authority over arresting illegal immigrants has caused national uproar and could set the stage for court battles over how far states can go when it comes to immigration policies.

The bill would it make it a crime for immigrants to have no alien registration document, and undocumented citizens would be charged with "trespassing" simply for being in Arizona. The bill allows police to question and arrest people without warrant if there is "reasonable suspicion" about their immigration status. It would become illegal for people to employ illegal immigrants or to transport them anywhere in the state, even if they are family members.

Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has until Saturday night to veto the bill, sign it or do nothing and let it automatically become law. Proponents of the bill say they are confident Brewer will sign it, but the governor has been facing intense pressure to do the opposite.

Thousands of people have written or called the governor's office, weighing in overwhelmingly against the bill. As of Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman said, the governor's office had tallied 1,356 people for the bill and 11,931 against it.

Outside the state Capitol in Phoenix, protestors have been standing day and night since Sunday, calling on the governor to veto the bill.

"It affects everyone not only in Arizona, but nationally. ... I don't think anything has been this extreme until this point," said Bridgette Gomez, a 24-year-old math tutor. "The evil is racial profiling, to think that you're going to always have to show identification. Because I'm tan, I must be illegal."

Critics of the bill charge that it essentially legalizes racial profiling, which will lead to an uptick in hate crimes.

"It is literally designed to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they leave the state," said Frank Sharry, founder and director of America's Voice, which pushes for comprehensive immigration reform. "And in doing so it puts a target on the back of every Latino-looking person in the state."

Others say it's also unconstitutional because it encroaches on federal government's power to enforce immigration policy. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and other groups are preparing to challenge the legislation if it becomes law this week.

"The Constitution is pretty clear about having one set of rules," said Thomas A. Saenz, general counsel and president of MALDEF. "Now, you have the state of Arizona coming along and creating an obstacle to federally mandated priorities."

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Russell Pearce, said he's merely trying to enforce law that's already on the books.

"Illegal is not a race. It's a crime and in Arizona. We're going to enforce the law ... without apologies," said Pearce, a former deputy in the Maricopa County Sherriff's Office, which is known for cracking down on illegal immigrants. "It's just that simple."

Pearce said he went through the bill line by line with the governor and is confident she will sign it.

Even if the bill were to become law, however, the state would have to solicit the partnership of Department of Homeland Security. Its secretary, Janet Napolitano, vetoed the same bill three times when she was governor of Arizona.

Pearce made no bones about the fact that the bill is designed to prevent illegal immigrants from coming to Arizona.

"Our cities and neighborhoods have turned into war zones," he said. "We have such silly restrictions. We know that what's coming across the border today are smugglers, gang members, drug dealers, bad people."