Update: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the Arizona bill into law on Friday, sparking protests and stirring up a storm of political criticism around the nation.
The Obama administration, fresh from its narrow victory on health reform, is expected to tackle immigration reform this summer. But in Arizona, often considered ground zero for undocumented border crossings, the battle over immigration already has come to a head.
This week Arizona lawmakers voted on what could become the toughest immigration legislation in the United States. Senate Bill 1070 passed 35 to 21 in the Arizona House of Representatives Tuesday. The bill would require police to check immigration status of anyone they have "reasonable suspicion" to believe may be undocumented. Under the measure, police could arrest anyone who is unable to show documentation of their legal status. Current Arizona law does not require police officers to ask about immigration status.
The Bill is on to the state senate where it's expected to pass next week. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is also expected to sign the bill. Brewer has a record of supporting anti-immigration legislation. She advocated for the controversial Proposition 200, which passed in 2004, and requires Arizona voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote or apply for public benefits.
State Senator Russell Pearce was one of the architects behind Proposition 200. Pearce is best known for sponsoring anti-immigration legislation. He's also a self-proclaimed Minuteman. He has spoken at rallies and supported the now disbanded Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.
In an interview at a Minuteman rally near the Mexico border, back in 2006, Pearce said illegal immigrants are to blame for rising costs of social services, like health care, and an increase in crime.
The Minuteman have been in the headlines over the last year.
Former Minuteman Shawna Forde faces double murder charges in a violent home invasion near Tucson last year.
Just last month, MCDC president Carmen Mercer, sent an email call to arms, telling Minutemen to come to the border, "locked, loaded, and ready to stop each and every individual we encounter along the frontier." A week later, MCDC dissolved because of what representatives say were liability concerns.
Pearce, a former police officer, has said he hoped the bill would make it harder for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Pearce told the Los Angeles Times, "when you make life difficult, most will leave on their own."
Immigration rights activists say this bill goes too far and will lead to racial profiling and abuse of police powers. In a press release Wednesday, Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union said, "Contrary to what proponents of SB1070 say, the bill does not prohibit officers from relying on race or ethnicity in deciding who to investigate. Police untrained in the complexities of immigration law will have a green light to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign."