A controversial law passed in Arizona giving state and local police the right to arrest anyone reasonably suspected of being an illegal immigrant is catching on nationwide, with lawmakers and others in several states considering similar legislation.
Concerned about the federal government’s failure to secure the nation’s borders, legislators and political candidates from Georgia to Colorado have introduced bills to beef up local immigration enforcement, have promised to do so or said they would support such legislation if offered.
“With the federal government currently AWOL in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to protect American lives, property and jobs against the clear and present dangers of illegal-alien invaders, state lawmakers … are left with no choice but to take individual action to address this critical economic and national security epidemic,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe.
Mr. Metcalfe, a Republican who introduced legislation last week modeled on the Arizona law, said his bill would give “every illegal alien residing in Pennsylvania two options: Leave immediately or go to jail.”
His bill would, among other things, give state and local law enforcement officials full authority to apprehend Pennsylvania’s estimated 140,000 illegal immigrants and require law enforcement officers to attempt to verify the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants. It also would make it a criminal offense for illegal immigrants to fail to register as foreigners or to have proof that they did.
South Carolina state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, a Republican, has sponsored a bill in that state allowing the verification of a person’s immigration status and providing for the “warrantless arrest of persons suspected of being present in the United States unlawfully.”
Mr. Bedingfield’s bill also would target illegal immigrants who fail to complete or carry legal registration documents and would criminalize “hiring and picking up workers at different locations while impeding traffic.”
He said his constituents are concerned about illegal immigration and that he had received numerous communications from constituents asking when South Carolina would take the additional step as lawmakers did in Arizona. The bill, he said, has 20 to 30 co-sponsors and is pending in the House, but it might be difficult to get it to the Senate floor before the end of the session June 1.
In Oklahoma, state Rep. Randy Terrill said he and some other lawmakers still hope to pass a bill similar to Arizona’s new law this session and “go beyond it.” Mr. Terrill, a longtime advocate for tougher immigration laws, said his group also would like the legislation to include tougher penalties for illegal immigrants caught with firearms.
Mr. Terrill, a Republican, said Oklahoma used to have the toughest laws against illegal immigrants but that Arizona is now No. 1.
“We are runner-up,” he said. “The states have to act because the federal government has refused to enforce our nation’s borders and turned every state into a border state.”
Similar efforts are under way in Minnesota, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Nebraska and Idaho.
Several political leaders, immigrant advocacy rights groups and others have said they will challenge the Arizona law as unconstitutional.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, also asked Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, to delay the legislation while Washington works on comprehensive immigration reform. Mrs. Brewer declined, saying her state had no choice but to act in the absence of federal reform.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Sunday said the Justice Department is considering a federal lawsuit against Arizona’s new immigration law. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the lawsuit could challenge whether the law would lead to civil rights violations.
The Arizona law is set to take effect in midsummer and authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to determine during lawful stops the immigration status of people for whom there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally. Known as Senate Bill 1070, it was enacted in response to a dramatic rise in violence along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard requiring that before someone is arrested or detained there must be reasonable belief that the person has been, is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.
A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that 70 percent of likely Arizona voters approve of the legislation, while 23 percent oppose it.
Ann Morse, who monitors immigration legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said most attempts to pass legislation modeled on the Arizona statute probably will have to wait till next year. She said it is too late for most state legislatures to consider such a measure, since most are already out of session or winding down.
She said many states will be watching what happens in Arizona regarding pending and threatened lawsuits and a ballot initiative. She said she was not ruling out a similar stand from other states “to push the federal government to take responsibility.”
Utah House Speaker David Clark said he expects an Arizona-type bill to be introduced next year when that state’s legislature returns to session. Mr. Clark, a Republican, said Utah residents are “concerned” and “frustrated” about immigration and that Congress needs to act.
“In Utah, we don’t have the right to deport anyone,” he said. “I think that Arizona gave a size 13 boot to the federal government to try to spur it into action.”
In Georgia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal said he would support as governor legislation that mirrors Arizona’s new immigration policies.
“I agree with the Arizona governor and Legislature that the federal government has failed miserably at protecting our borders and enacting sensible solutions that would protect our states, counties and cities from bearing the enormous costs associated with illegal immigration, from emergency-room visits to public schools to the criminal justice system,” Mr. Deal said.
Mr. Deal was active in the fight against illegal immigration while a member of Congress. He was elected in 1992 to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party in 1995, and resigned in March to run for governor.
Brian Robinson, Mr. Deal’s campaign press secretary, said the veteran lawmaker, if elected, would “seriously push” for an Arizona-type law if the federal government continues the “status quo” of failing to secure the border.
“We don’t see we have a lot of choice, Mr. Robinson said. “This action has to be taken.”
Scott McInnis, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Colorado, also pledged to sign a bill like the Arizona legislation, “given the failure of the federal government to deal with illegal immigration,” said spokesman Sean Duffy.
During a recent KHOW radio interview in Denver, Mr. McInnis said, “We are stopping the retreat. No more retreat. Federal government, if you are not going to do it, we are going to do it.”