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Arizona bill tells police to check immigration status

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Arizona immigration law sparks debate
  • Bill goes to Arizona governor's desk for signature
  • It requires police to determine if a person is in the United States legally
  • Proponents say bill helps officers will enforce the law
  • Opponents say bill will foster racial profiling

(CNN) -- The Arizona state Senate on Monday passed an extensive immigration bill that is widely considered to be some of the toughest immigration legislation in the nation, requiring police officers to determine whether a person is in the United States legally.

Currently, officers can only take that route if a person is suspected in another crime. Critics, including immigrant advocates and the ACLU of Arizona, are concerned the new law will foster racial profiling, arguing that most police officers don't have enough training to look past race while investigating a person's legal status.

The Senate passed the bill in a 17-11 vote Monday. The bill was approved in a House vote last week and awaits the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer. Supporters of the measure expect her to sign it.

Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, who wrote the bill, said in a recent interview that, with the bill, "We're going to take the handcuffs off of law enforcement, we're going to put them on the bad guy. Illegal is not a race, it's a crime."

"You know, this is amazing to me. We trust officers, we put guns on them, they make life and death decisions every day," he added. "They investigate capital crimes, they investigate sophisticated crimes, but we're afraid they're going to pick up the phone and call ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)."

The tough rhetoric has angered immigration advocates, such as Isabel Garcia, an Arizona legal defender, who says the legislation "legalizes racial profiling."

"I think this bill represents the most dangerous precedent in this country, violating all of our due process rights," she told CNN's Tony Harris. "We have not seen this kind of legislation since the Jim Crow laws. And targeting our communities, it is the single most largest attack on our communities."

The measure would require immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times. It also requires police to question people if there's reason to suspect they're undocumented and targets those who hire illegal immigrant day laborers or knowingly transport them.

The state Senate's Democratic leadership slammed Monday's vote, saying the bill doesn't truly address Arizona's real immigration problems.

Senate Bill 1070 "is exactly why the federal government must act on immigration reform," said Democratic leader Jorge Luis Garcia in a written statement. "We cannot have states creating a jigsaw puzzle of immigration laws. This bill opens the doors to racial profiling with the provision that allows an officer to ask for citizenship papers from someone who only looks illegal."

The bill is an unfunded mandate that is "turning police officers into ICE agents and opening departments to lawsuits allowed by this bill," said Sen. Rebecca Rios.

Rios was referring to a provision in the bill that allows residents to sue their local governments if they feel the law isn't being enforced effectively.

According to Phoenix press, the governor, who has not taken a public stance on the bill, on Sunday told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that, "I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly."

CNN's Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.