Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday blasted the newly passed Arizona immigration legislation as an unconstitutional throwback to the Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation in public.
Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Nidia Velasquez, D-N.Y., said during a press conference Wednesday that the controversial immigration bill signed into law April 23 in Arizona will unleash a host of legal and ethical problems, including racial profiling in a state with approximately 1.87 million Hispanic residents.
Comparing the new law to Apartheid in South Africa, Velasquez claimed the legislation "panders to the worst elements of our national dialogue," while Grijalva said the Constitution has been "hijacked by extremists" in the Arizona legislature.
The Democratic lawmakers' attack echoed remarks made by President Obama a day earlier in which he suggested that Hispanic Americans will be unjustly targeted as a result of the legislation's tougher stance on immigration policy.
"One of the things that the law says is that local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be an illegal immigrant for their papers. But you can imagine if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona, your great, great grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Iowa on Tuesday.
"But now suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed," the president said. "That’s something that could potentially happen. That’s not the right way to go."
The precise language in Arizona Senate bill 1070 says that Arizona law enforcement officials "may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements [of the legislation] except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution."
The legislation also makes clear that law enforcement agents must have "reasonable" suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally before making a "reasonable attempt" to verify his or her citizenship.
If an individual is presumed illegal, he or she must present a valid Arizona driver license or an Arizona nonoperating identification license or form of tribal identification, according to the law.
Critics of the legislation say the law's use of the word "reasonable" is open to various interpretations, and will unavoidably allow officials to discriminate against U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin.
"Fifty years in fighting the civil rights efforts that we have put to ensure that all Americans, all people in this country, are free," said Juan Carlos Ruiz, director of the Latino Foundation of Greater Washington, who is supporting an economic boycott to protest the law. "We cannot go back to this slave patrol era…This type of legislation is against the Constitution of the United States."
Proponents of the legislation, which polls show is supported by most Arizona residents, have defended the language by claiming it only seeks to toughen enforcement on pre-existing law.
"The opponents of this legislation just don't want to enforce the law," Arizona state Sen. Ron Gould said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News.
"The law is clearly within the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It doesn't allow officers to contact people on basis of race. They have to break another crime or violate another statute to even be contacted," he said. "The open border advocates that are against this are for open immigration. They want everybody to be able to flood America and come at will," he said.
Fox News’ John Brandt contributed to this report.