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Arizona Bill Aims to Outlaw Illegal Immigrants in State

PHOENIX -- The Arizona House on Tuesday approved a bill to crack down on illegal immigration by making it against state law to be in Arizona without legal immigration documents.

House Republicans advanced the measure on a 35-21 party-line vote. The Senate approved a similar measure in February but must concur to changes made in the House before sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer.

Supporters celebrated the bill as a measure to protect the state from violent criminals. Opponents say it will draw local communities deeper into the fight against illegal immigration and do nothing to keep people safer.

Arizona's struggling economy has driven many illegal immigrants from the state. But as the economy rebounds, "so too will the illegal immigrants -- larger, stronger and more destructive than they were several years ago," said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

"We need to put this law in place now so that when the new illegal immigrants come, we're prepared to do battle with them," he said.

The measure has several provisions. It would:

-- Create a new state misdemeanor crime of willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document. 

-- Allow officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they're legally in the country.

-- Ban so-called soft immigration policies at local police agencies and allow people to sue if they feel a government agency has adopted a policy that hinders the enforcement of illegal immigration laws.

-- Prohibit people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day-labor services on street corners.

-- Make it illegal for people to transport illegal immigrants if the drivers of vehicles know their passengers are in the country illegally and if the transportation furthers their illegal presence in the country.

The provision is designed to target law enforcement policies that prevent officers from asking people about their immigration status, but opponents worry it will make victims and witnesses scared to work with police and prosecutors.

"This is a false hope for the people of Arizona. It's a false sense of security for our neighborhoods," said Rep. Chad Campbell, R-Phoenix.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who is one of Arizona's loudest voices opposing illegal immigration.

Tuesday's vote demonstrated Pearce's political power at the Legislature and underscored the pressure on Republicans to support crackdowns on illegal immigration. The measure won support from all 35 House Republicans, including a handful who said they had serious concerns with the legislation.

"This bill is filled with problems, huge problems. But more importantly it will not stem the tide of illegal immigration," Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, said before adding that he feels "obligated" to support the bill anyway.

Konopnicki said the best way to address illegal immigration is with fences, electronic surveillance, air support and more border patrol agents.

The bill is being closely watched nationally by groups on both sides of the immigration debate.

Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, suggested the House bill is the work of racists.

"Arizona has long been a laboratory for anti-immigrant experimentation, and its demagogue leaders have become folk heroes for white supremacists throughout the United States," Newman said. "But this bill ushers in a new chapter of disgrace for the state that resisted celebrating the life of Martin Luther King."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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