States struggle with Arizona's immigration laws


Immigration protest (image by Flickr user th.omas (cc:by-nc))

This story was originally covered by PRI's Here & Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

Pennsylvania, Utah and other states are trying to follow Arizona's lead in passing tough immigration laws. The laws give state and local police officers a greater role enforcing federal immigration statutes. Regan Cooper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, attacked the proposed laws, telling PRI's Here & Now:

We're very concerned that the trust that many members of law enforcement have worked so hard to establish would be eroded as victims of crimes and witnesses of crime feel too afraid to come forward and interact with police.

Cooper also attacked other immigration safeguards, such as the Department of Homeland Security's e-verify system, as rife with errors, and other provisions as "waste of a precious resource"—police officers' time.

Utah state legislator Stephen Sandstrom is introducing a law that he believes could make Arizona's law better. Sandstrom's law would require law enforcement officials to check people's immigration status if they have "probable cause" that the person is undocumented, instead of the "reasonable suspicion" standard that Arizona employs. He also seeks to set up safeguards to make sure that witnesses and victims of crimes can still go to the police.

Arizona's neighbor New Mexico, on the other hand, has condemned Arizona's new immigration laws. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called it "a reprehensible law that's going to lead to racial profiling," and the state's House of Representatives passed a law recognizing the economic benefits of undocumented immigrants.

Both immigration and anti-immigration advocates agree on one thing: Real reform needs to come from the federal government. Barack Obama, too, recognized the need for reform, saying, "The Arizona law, I think, expresses some of the frustrations that Americans have had in not fixing the broken immigration system." Obama asserted that illegal immigration is actually down recently, but spoke of the need to create a legal pathway toward citizenship for those immigrants who follow the rules.

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