State of Arizona passes draconian immigration bill

Mexicans protesting against discrimination in San Francisco. Image: Matt Cohen Photo / 1115

Mexicans protesting against discrimination in San Francisco. Image: Matt Cohen Photo / 1115

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.


  1. 4 May ’10 at 6:36 pm

    R.J. Johnson

    Try entering Mexico illegally!

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  2. 4 May ’10 at 6:38 pm

    R.J. Johnson

    I love the word “draconian.” It’s so collegiate.

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  3. Defending Arizona’s New Law
    by State Rep. John Kavanagh (Republican – Arizona)

    Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law, SB1070, has generated a large amount of controversy, much of it due to a misunderstanding of its provisions. As a co-sponsor, I would like to set the record straight.

    SB1070 is a comprehensive anti-illegal immigration law designed to “crack down” on illegal immigration and all the harm it causes Arizona in terms of crime and backbreaking public expenses to incarcerate, educate, medically treat and provide other services to illegal immigrants and their children.

    The most frequent criticism of SB1070 is that it will empower police to challenge the legal presence of all Hispanics, legal and illegal, based solely upon their appearance. This is untrue. SB1070 only directs police officers to question someone when they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe that the person is in the U.S. illegally and even then only after being stopped for breaking another law. This provision merely extends a half-century old U.S. Supreme Court created tool called “stop and question” to immigration offenses. To prevent racial profiling, the law states that in constructing “reasonable suspicion,” police officers “may not solely consider race, color or national origin.”

    Based upon input from police chiefs and detectives, changes were made to SB1070 to correct other potential problems. Police officers are only required to make “reasonable” legal presence inquiries “when practicable,” so that officers will be free to prioritize their time. No officer will have to question an immigration suspect while a bank is being robbed down the street. Likewise, no questioning is required when it would “hinder or obstruct an investigation.” Crime victims and witnesses would never be questioned because questioning is limited to only those who have violated some law.

    Another argument made against SB1070 is that it illegally preempts federal immigration law. But we are not preempting federal law – we are incorporating and enforcing it. If anybody is preempting federal law, it’s the municipalities that have instituted “sanctuary city” policies that prohibit their police officers from even reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities. SB1070 prohibits sanctuary city policies within Arizona.

    Nor does the new law require residents to carry identification papers. This mistaken belief stems from a provision in the law that creates a presumption of legal presence, if a person presents specified forms of government issued identification. As with all law, the burden of proof rests with the police officer. If the officer’s questioning does not elevate the information level from reasonable suspicion to probable cause, the suspect walks. Failing to present identification papers is not grounds to arrest, unless the suspect admits to non-citizen status because federal law requires the carrying of such documents by non-citizens.

    The bottom line is that the Bush administration dropped the ball on border security and internal immigration enforcement and the Obama administration cannot even find it. The primary responsibility of government is to protect its citizens and illegal immigration poses a growing threat to safety. Until such time as the federal government secures the border and adequately enforces immigration laws internally, Arizona will have no choice but to protect its citizens.

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  4. No, the better challenge is: Try entering LEGALLY, without having any ties here, without having been born here, and With a huge number of people who will hate you for your efforts at doing something to improve your life and your family’s or efforts just get them to safety. Perhaps then SB1070 supporters would understand

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