Arizona Lawmakers to Crack Down on Immigration

Russell Pearce
Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored a bill to crack down on illegal immigration.
More people enter the U.S. illegally through Arizona than anywhere else - almost 700,000 were arrested here in the last three years, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"There are so many bad guys coming across - bandits and smugglers," said one concerned citizen.

So, the Arizona legislature is about to pass the toughest law against illegal immigrants in the country.

"It's intended to be the toughest," said State Sen. Russell Pearce.

The bill's sponsor said there's little doubt it will be signed into law next week.

"They're illegal," Pearce said. "This is not harsh."

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The legislation would make it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. Police will also be able to ask anyone to prove their legal status and demand to see a driver's license or state ID whenever the officer felt "reasonable suspicion exists." Without proper documents, immigrants can be jailed, fined or deported.

Seventy-one law enforcement agencies around the country already turn immigrants over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but only when arrested for serious crimes. Police here like Arizona's tougher stance.

"This new legislation opens up the freeway to common sense," said Mark Spencer, the president of the Phoenix Police Union.

But critics say it looks like racial profiling.

"In this country we are normally innocent until proven guilty," said Alessandra Soler Meetze with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. "But what this law says is that if you don't have ID you are guilty of being undocumented."

Iron company owner, Sheridan Bailey, who opposes the law, said in this global economy Arizona looks intolerant - and it's bad for business.

"It's just nuts," Bailey said. "So who would want to do business here is the thing."

CBS News spoke with a woman who came to Phoenix illegally 16 years ago. She owns a small business, but fears the new law.

"I feel I'm being attacked by the state," she said in Spanish. "I have a lot of fear that I will encounter the police. I try to avoid them."

But Pearce insists the law is good policy.

"Illegal is not a race, it's a crime and we're going to enforce it in the state of Arizona," he said.

Arizona expects other states to follow its lead, but opponents expect to fight the new law in court.