Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed into state law the nation's toughest sanctions against illegal border crossings, and taking a verbal swipe at the Obama administration while doing so.
"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act," she said.
The bill makes it a crime to be in Arizona illegally, and requires police to question people about their status if there's reason to suspect they're illegal immigrants.
There were protests outside the state Capitol in Phoenix yesterday, in a state in which almost a half-million immigrants live. A church group plans to file a federal lawsuit against the measure. Hispanic groups have also vowed to fight the new law in court.
"By signing it, this bill, Governor Brewer has thrown the door wide open for racial profiling," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza
Some local law enforcement agencies have protested, saying their resources will be stretched thin. Meanwhile, a provision in the bill allows citizens to sue police to compel them to enforce the new law.
Brewer said that she would not tolerate racial profiling, but that's what federal officials fear. President Obama called the Arizona law misguided, and urged lawmakers to get going to immigration reform. Failure to act, he said, opens the door to irresponsibility.
"That includes the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans," he said.
The president said he will have the Justice Department look for possible civil rights violations in the new law. And, Plante reports, Democrats looking for Hispanic votes in November will take up immigration legislation in the Senate, even though it's unlikely to pass before the election.
On CBS' "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," Bay Buchanan, a Republican commentator who served as Treasury Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, defended the new law, saying she did not find anything unconstitutional with it.
"What they're giving is the tools to the law enforcement officers of Arizona, the same tools that we now have given to the border agents - they have the ability to ask people about their legal status," Buchanan told "Early Show" anchor Chris Wragge.
"And the key was what Russell Pearce, the State Senator who is behind this bill, did: He went to the police officers and the law enforcement officers, the prosecutors in Arizona and said, 'What can we do? What do you need to finally take care of this issue here in this state?' And they said, 'We need greater tools, we need greater abilities.' And that's what they did: they have now put it into law, given the law enforcement officers of Arizona the ability to secure the welfare and safety of the people there in Arizona."
Maria Cardona, a Democratic communications strategist and principal with the Dewey Square Group, called the new law horrendous policy and even worse politics.
"This is an insidious law that will actually make not just all undocumented immigrants but all legal and U.S. citizen Latinos, many of which whose families have been in Arizona even before Arizona was part of the United States, it makes them under suspicion," she said. "They become people of interest under this law. They could be speaking Spanish on a corner. Who knows what 'reasonable suspicion' means? The governor herself could not answer the question yesterday about what an illegal immigrant looks like.
"So law enforcement officers, a lot of law enforcement officers in Arizona don't want this law. They understand that they need community policing, and in order to be effective law enforcement officers, they need the trust of the Hispanic community, which will absolutely evaporate under this law."
Buchanan argued that current law hasn't "done the job" in combating illegal immigration.
"Arizona is a target for human and drug smuggling," she said. "It's the number one place, number one state in the country where that's coming through. That's the target of the drug cartels take them right through that state. And as a result Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the country and one of the top kidnapping capitals of the world now. The crime in Arizona is outrageous. People are being murdered, crime is high, the schools are overloaded. Laws have not worked.
"And so now they're given the tool, they've taken the handcuffs off the police officers and they're going to be putting them on those who are violating the laws of this country."
When asked for an alternative to the new law, Cardona said, "What we need clearly is comprehensive immigration reform. I absolutely understand the frustration of the folks in Arizona, of all of our leaders in the border states who look at this problem and have had this problem for many, many, many years. It is an issue that we need to deal with it at the federal level, which is why the president said we need to deal with this by passing comprehensive immigration reform.
"The law in Arizona is not the way to go. I agree with Bay that there is a huge problem with undocumented immigrants who are actually drug traffickers, and all of the crime is clearly an issue. This law does nothing to address this. The only thing this law will do is to make it open season for any immigrant, anybody who does not look Anglo, and it will make actually racial profiling legal in Arizona. It's insidious and it's wrong-headed."
When asked how the law can be applied with racial profiling, Buchanan said, "Our border agents do it every day. So this is nothing new."
"They are trained," said Cardona.
"And that is what the governor of Arizona said: She's going to rain her police officers," Buchanan responded. "The key here is, this is what the people of Arizona want. They've had it with the federal government. They have refused to do the job and the answer is not amnesty for the 15 to 20 million illegals here. That's what Obama wants, that's what the Democrats want. It is not. That just increases the number of people coming in to the country illegal. The people of Arizona on the front lines are paying the price. They've had it. This will clean up the problem in Arizona. That's what it will do."
Cardona disagreed: "It will do nothing to do that," she said.
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