On Friday, April 23, 2010, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill into law, sparking protest and once again making immigration reform a hot topic. The highly contested legislation makes it a crime under Arizona law to be in the United States illegally and provides police with the ability to question and detain those they suspect of being illegal immigrants. Individuals unable to produce documentation of their legal status could be fined $2,500 and imprisoned for six months. Those arrested may also be turned over to federal immigration authorities. The bill will not immediately go into effect but is scheduled to be implemented late in the summer of 2010.
The legislation, which is arguably unconstitutional, could lead to wide-spread racial profiling in the state and the arrest of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals of legal status who happen to look Hispanic. Supporters of the bill assert that the law is not about race but about legality. In a statement, Gov. Brewer stated the law was designed to protect the state of Arizona from border related crime and violence and the “murderous greed of drug cartels.”
Political leaders and other organizations are taking the opportunity to bring immigration into the forefront of the national conversation. In a speech made to new U.S. citizens, President Obama called the Arizona bill ‘misguided’ and urged Congress to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. He has also said that the law could lead to police abuses and has asked the Department of Justice to explore the law’s implications before he decides how to proceed. Some U.S. senators have called on Gov. Brewer to delay implementation of the bill to allow for progress on a national comprehesive immigration plan.
Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security Secretary, also spoke out in a recent ABC News interview, warning that the law may compel other states to take similar actions which would create a patchwork of laws instead of federal legislation. Her fears appear to be playing out as twelve additional state governments – Arkansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah – have introduced or are currently considering similar bills.