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Arizona's Immigration Law Is Only the Beginning

At least 19 other states have passed or are considering similar laws, and you wouldn't believe who's complaining.

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With anti-immigration sentiments overtaking the nation like bad reality television, it should come as no surprise that lawmakers in at least 19 states are considering or have passed laws similar to Arizona's statute that targets illegal immigrants.

William Gheen, a conservative who is president of Americans for Legal Immigration, a nonpartisan political action committee based in Raleigh, N.C., tracks the numbers. When he spoke to The Root, he had hoped to see Tennessee become the latest state to enact Arizona-like legislation to crack down on illegal immigration.  State lawmakers there recently passed resolutions praising Arizona's law, which among other things compels legal immigrants to carry papers confirming their status and requires law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of people they stop. However, the Tennessee legislature adjourned last week without similar legislation in the works.

Besides Tennessee, a number of states have Arizona-like laws on the books or are in the midst of developing them, including Minnesota, Arkansas, South Carolina and Utah. Many of the laws target undocumented workers and the immigration status of welfare recipients, who conservatives and Republicans say are draining the nation's resources.

"We continue to support immigration enforcement on a much broader level, but Arizona's bill is a popular item right now,'' Gheen told The Root. "People all across America are very excited about it."

Well, not everyone.

Arizona's law is designed to confront the state's estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants, the majority coming from just across the border in Mexico. While Arizona lawmakers maintain that their measure was established to deter illegal immigration, the end result will be racial profiling, say critics.

Those critics include police chiefs from around the nation, who recently expressed their discomfort with Arizona's measure to Attorney General Eric Holder, saying they were not eager to use a policy that requires them to use "reasonable suspicion,'' to determine if a suspect is in the country illegally.

Their stance thrusts law enforcement squarely on the side of civil rights proponents such as Barry Frager, a longtime immigration advocate and lawyer in Memphis, Tenn. Until now, law enforcement officers and immigration advocacy groups frequently found themselves at odds when it came to issues of immigration, crime and safety.

Frager said he is not surprised that the two sides have come together. He described Arizona's law as wholly unfair and said it would be a travesty if other states end up with laws similar to the one there. He hopes that Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform package that would override state laws.

Meanwhile, Frager's firm provides his clients with identification cards in case they are stopped by the police. Each card has the client's immigration file number and Frager's contact information so that the police can call him if the bearer's English is faulty. Besides Hispanics, he represents clients from the Middle Eastern and South East Asia.