In response to national uproar over potential racial profiling, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed on Friday a bill that modified some aspects of the state’s immigration law.
The follow-on bill still makes it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally, but strives to undercut accusations that the new law would in effect amount to state sanctioned racial profiling.
Federal law considers it a civil violation, not a federal crime, to be in the country illegally. It is a federal crime, however, to enter the country illegally.
Changes to Arizona’s new immigration law – the toughest in the nation – includes permitting police officers to question someone about their immigration status if the person was stopped, detained, or arrested on suspicion of violating another law.
In the earlier law, officers had the power to question someone about their legal residency if they appeared suspicious of being in the country illegally.
The new bill also strengthens the immigration law’s prohibition of racial profiling by adding restrictions to the ability of police officers to question someone based on race or ethnicity.
“These new statements make it crystal clear and undeniable that racial profiling is illegal, and will not be tolerated in Arizona,” Brewer said in a statement.
Yet despite Brewer’s effort to allay fears, critics maintain that the changes do nothing much to stop potential discrimination. Opponents of the law contended that officers could still find some minor offense as reason to question someone’s immigration status.
Opponents of Arizona’s new immigration law include faith communities. Across the nation this weekend, diverse groups of people of faith will assemble and pray in front of churches and march through their downtown to call on federal lawmakers to quickly pass comprehensive immigration reform. In the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, a Mega March is expected to draw more than 50,000 people on Saturday.
These faith-based groups argue that Arizona’s new law will break families apart, foster racial profiling, and create an air of suspicion and fear without fixing the broken immigration system.
President Obama has called on the Justice Department to examine the law to see if it violates any civil rights law.
But despite the loud voices of opposition, a new Gallup poll this week found that among Americans who have heard about Arizona's new law, 51 percent say they favor it and only 39 percent oppose it.
Proponents of the bill say it is needed to fight the state’s high crime rate, which they partly attribute to illegal immigrants.
The law and the changes will take effect July 29 unless blocked by the court.