Church leaders quickly voiced opposition to Arizona's new immigration laws on Friday. They complain that not only will the rules be ineffective in solving the problem, but will promote discrimination.
"All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling," said the Rev. Jan Flaaten, executive director of Arizona Ecumenical Council, in a statement.
"Our religious traditions ask us to treat people with dignity and respect, and we look for a more enlightened and hopeful way of working with the undocumented people who live along side us," Flaaten added.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law on Friday a controversial immigration bill that is described as the toughest in the nation.
The laws require immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times, give police officers the power to question someone's legal residency if they suspect the person to be an illegal immigrant, and allow officers to arrest someone if they cannot prove their legal residency.
State lawmakers also cracked down on people who hire day laborers and those who knowingly transport illegal immigrants.
President Obama, ahead of the bill's signing, called it "misguided" and said he directed his staff to study what effects it might have on civil rights.
The Arizona bill has put pressure on Washington to take up immigration reform this year.
Gov. Brewer blamed federal lawmakers for her state's drastic measures against illegal immigrants.
"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act," Brewer said after signing the law. "But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."
She also dismissed accusations that the new laws would in effect sanction racial profiling. Brewer issued an executive order Friday requiring more training to police officers on how to carry out the new laws without engaging in racial profiling. She called on the state's law enforcement licensing agency to create the training course.
"We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent, or social status," she said. "We must prove the alarmists and the cynics wrong."
Besides the potential problem of racial profiling, critics point out the new bill does nothing to address border security concerns.
One of the key arguments made by supporters of the bill is that illegal immigrants are partly responsible for the state's high crime rate. State Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the bill, frequently points to a local rancher who was recently killed by a suspected illegal immigrant involved in drug trafficking.
"When do we stand up for Americans and America? Enough is enough," Pearce told Fox News earlier this week. "Arizona has become ground zero. We're number two in the world in kidnapping … We're not taking it anymore. We're going to enforce our laws, with compassion."
Religious leaders are urging federal lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, denouncing the current federal system as broken and the new Arizona law as "mean-spirited" and "ineffective."
"It is not only mean-spirited – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president/CEO of Sojourners. "Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable."
"This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel," the progressive evangelical leader contended. "We will not comply."
Several advocacy groups have expressed their intention to legally challenge the new Arizona immigration laws.
There are an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona, and an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the nation.