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.
"We're hoping that Tennessee will slow down its consideration for an Arizona-type of law,'' Frager told The Root. "Many of my clients would be affected if lawmakers made the mere fact of being illegally present [in this country] a violation of state law. At this point an immigration violation is a civil administrative violation in many instances, but many states want to criminalize behavior that is now handled through the executive branch of our government.''
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News' "On the Record" that passing laws similar to Arizona's is the best way to tackle the thorny issue of illegal immigration. Meghan Hughes, Graham's spokeswoman, said he was unable to talk to The Root before our deadline and referred us to a series of video clips, including the Van Susteren interview, which aired on June 9. He told Van Susteren that legislation similar to Arizona's is under consideration in South Carolina's statehouse.
For now, he is calling on the Obama administration to build more than just a virtual fence between the U.S. and Mexico. He also would like for the administration to recruit more than 1,200 National Guard troops to help patrol the border. "Do you need 6,000?'' he asked rhetorically. "The answer is yes.''
Barring that, lawmakers like Graham would settle for asking a state trooper to check the residency status of a suspect with a broken headlight.
This reeks of old Jim Crow. We thought he was gone.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.