New immigration bill puts local police on front line of border battle

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PHOENIX – There was both outrage and praise Tuesday night for the passage of what many are calling the "toughest immigration law in the country.”

It makes it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant and it criminalizes hiring and transporting illegal immigrants.

Perhaps most controversial of all, it requires police to check immigration documents. It was a party line vote with all republicans voting yes and all democrats voting no.

The bill's sponsor is fiercely defending his bill against critics. Senator Russell Pearce says, “And it's about time!"

Sen. Pearce, of Mesa, has tried for years to get the bill's provisions into law. Immigrants rights groups who were protesting at the Capitol called it a disgrace.

The attorney for a day-laborer group in Phoenix says he is outraged. Chris Newman, with the Day Laborer Organizing Network, says, “It takes anti-immigrant hysteria to a level the country has not yet seen. It's designed to make life miserable for immigrants and families so they self-deport."

Not true says Sen. Pearce, who insists law-abiding immigrants are not his target. “It's the drug cartels, gang members"

Critics say all immigrants will feel the effects since police forces statewide will now be on the look-out for illegal immigrants. Newman says, “The bill will result in racial profiling of particularly Latinos in the state.

Pearce has repeatedly dismissed allegations that his bill mandates racial profiling by police. He explains, “It says you will not use race and ethnicity as a sole factor. You have to have lawful contact, reason to believe, and then can only arrest based on probable cause."

The bill is expected to make a stop in the House before going to the governor. Pearce expects Governor Janet Brewer to sign the bill into law. Two groups have threatened to file lawsuits against the immigration bill.