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Arizona had to take charge on immigration

By Russ Jones, Special to CNN
  • Arizona state Rep. Russ Jones says new immigration bill gives better control to local police
  • Bill tries to take on illegal immigration where state, federal government haven't, Jones says
  • Lawmaker says the bill won't encourage racial profiling
  • Jones: Many police support bill, although it faces challenge on requiring IDs to be carried

Editor's note: Republican Russ Jones is an Arizona state representative from the 24th District in Yuma, where he owns an international import/export business.

Phoenix, Arizona (CNN) -- There's no doubt that there has been much controversy surrounding Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, known as the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," which I voted for last week.

The bill attempts, in part, to give Arizona's local law enforcement the option to question individuals about their legal status and to detain and hand over those individuals who are illegal immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Some people criticize this new bill, while at the same time saying that something must be done about illegal immigration. Then they will mention the ever-popular catchphrase about "comprehensive immigration policy." This is fine and good, but so far no one on either the state or federal level has enacted any workable solutions to this problem.

With a lack of progress, this state has felt compelled to move forward in crafting its own legislation to deal with problems at home. This is why my legislative colleagues and I have worked so hard to address critics' concerns with this proposal.

I have worked with the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Russell Pearce, on the most recent amendment (which was included in the legislation that passed) that addresses concerns about such things as racial profiling as well as on a forthcoming "trailer bill" that will make additional substantive changes.

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These include cutting the fines for "sanctuary cities" that restrict police enforcement of immigration laws (the fines were steeper in the original bill.)

Together, these changes will ensure that our laws are enforced, while striking a fair balance between supporting law enforcement and respecting Arizonans' rights. SB 1070, as passed by the state House of Representatives with the most recent amendment, gives our local police officers the tools they need to combat illegal immigration while still providing safeguards to ensure that the civil rights of citizens and legal residents are not violated.

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Critics say this bill will lead to racial profiling. The amended language makes this untrue. Racial profiling is something I would never have supported. Police may not solely consider race, color or national origin when stopping and interviewing an individual to determine his or her immigration status. The bill merely prohibits any government law enforcement agency or official from restricting enforcement of immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.

In enforcing the provisions of the bill, law enforcement has the discretion to verify immigration status "when practicable" and may not verify "if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation."

The phrase "when practicable" allows the officers on the street discretion to determine priority between verifying immigration status or answering additional calls for dangerous crimes elsewhere.

Of course, the immediate fix for illegal immigration would be to secure our borders. But until the federal government actually puts up an effective border fence securing our southern border, we cannot sit back and hope for the best while our laws are broken every day and the hands of law enforcement are tied.

It's for these reasons many in law enforcement support this legislation, including the Arizona Police Association, a number of county sheriffs, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. I believe additional municipalities and law enforcement agencies will add their support once the new language from the trailer bill is considered in conference committee next week.

I remain concerned that Arizona does not have the legal authority to require immigrants to carry federally issued identification on them at all times, as stipulated in the proposed bill. If we as a state do not have the authority to require that identification, then how do we enforce this new law? This may be a problem, and the courts very well could take up this issue.

As with all complex legislation of this nature, it almost goes without saying there will be other unintended consequences that will require fixes in future legislative sessions.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Russ Jones.