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Arizona Immigration Enforcement Bill Stirs National Debate

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July 10, 2009: A Guatemalan illegal immigrant prepares to board a plane at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport during his deportation process. (Reuters)

An Arizona bill that would impose some of the toughest immigration laws in the country is generating a storm of controversy nationwide as it tracks toward the governor's desk. 

The Arizona Senate voted Monday to approve the final version of the bill, which was voted up on a party-line vote by the state House last Tuesday. If it's signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, it would give police in the state broad new powers to arrest and charge people suspected of being in the country illegally. 

The legislation has attracted widespread attention, with some accusing the state of sanctioning a racial profiling program that flies in the face of residents' civil rights. 

Most recently, the head of the nation's largest archdiocese said the bill would encourage "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques." 

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese, made the comments in his blog Sunday, a day before the Arizona Legislature passed the bill. 

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., also led a press conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to denounce the proposal and call on the federal government to put pressure on Arizona officials not to enforce it. 

"The president needs to say on immigration laws, the Constitution is clear we preempt all state laws," he said. 

The bill contains several provisions. Among them, it would create a new state misdemeanor crime for failing to carry alien registration documents; allow officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving their legal residence; allow people to sue if they feel a government agency has adopted a policy that hinders immigration enforcement; prohibit people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day labor services on street corners; and make it illegal for people to knowingly transport illegal immigrants. 

But in the absence of a federal immigration overhaul, some are coming down in support of the proposal. 

Republican Sen. John McCain, who is in a tight race against primary challenger J.D. Hayworth in Arizona, has come out in favor of the bill, despite co-authoring a bill four years ago with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy that was derided by some as amnesty. 

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who is sponsoring the measure, dismissed claims that the bill would lead to arbitrary profiling and said the bill is needed to help Arizona deal with rampant crime. He cited the recent killing of local rancher Robert Krentz by a suspected illegal immigrant. 

"When do we stand up for Americans and America? Enough is enough," he told Fox News on Tuesday. "Arizona has become ground zero. We're number two in the world in kidnapping. ... We're not taking it anymore. We're going to enforce our laws, with compassion." 

McCain, though, has drawn ridicule for backing the proposed legislation. 

"It was a surprise to see him swing that far," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said Tuesday, accusing the Republican senator of pandering. 

Gutierrez suggested Tuesday the administration threaten to withhold funding to Arizona if the state tries to carry out the law. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.