The state of Arizona made the headlines last week when it signed into law a highly contentious bill intended to crackdown on illegal immigrants. Under the new law, which is now widely viewed as the toughest in the US, it is a state crime not to carry immigration documents.
The law gives police unprecedented power to question and detain anyone they believe to be in the country illegally.
An effort to reform federal immigration legislation collapsed in 2007, and Arizona is the latest of a series of states to have passed state immigration laws.
With an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona, the immigration debate has been a particularly highly charged issue. Arizona’s divisive new law has sparked both condemnation and support.
The economy of Arizona has slumped in recent years, causing increased hostility to illegal immigrants. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 70pc of Arizona’s likely voters support the legislation, even though 53pc also said they were concerned it would cause racial profiling.
Bordering Mexico, Arizona is frequently used as the point of entry for illegal migrants entering America. Supporters of the bill hope it will deter migrants from illegally entering the state. A hard line stance on immigration is strongly supported by Arizona’s Republican politicians. State Representative, John Kavanagh, said: “When the new tsunami of illegal immigrants comes, we will be ready for them.”
The bill has had several high-profile backers, including Senator John McCain. He defended it, saying that people of Arizona “have had their rights violated by the unending and constant flow of drug smugglers and human traffickers”. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law, proclaimed that it “protects every American citizen”.
However, opponents term the law “draconian”, arguing that it discriminates against citizens of Hispanic appearance, as well as resulting in racial profiling.
Under the new law, police have the authority to stop a person and demand their documents if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are unlawfully in the US. The ambiguity of the word
“reasonable” renders the law open to abuse and may legitimize targeting people with darker skin colour.
Before the bill was signed, President Obama criticized it, saying it threatened to undermine “the trust between police and their communities”. He has instructed the Department of Justice to examine whether the bill violates civil rights.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón warned that political relations and trade would be “seriously affected” as a result of the law. He too cited concerns about potential misuse of the law, saying that it “opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement”.
The backlash from the law looks set to impact Arizona’s already ailing economy. Opponents of the bill have called for a boycott of the state. A coalition, “Boycott Arizona”, has been formed and urges people not to buy state-made products.
With high profile figures getting involved and both sides adamant that they’re right, the furore is likely to escalate for the foreseeable future.