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States Gearing Up to Follow Arizona's Lead on Immigration

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks during a news conference after signing her state's immigration bill April 23 in Phoenix. (AP Photo)

While Arizona faces the scorn of the White House and local governments across the country for its immigration law, lawmakers in several states are looking to follow the Grand Canyon State's lead. 

Lawmakers and politicians in Texas, Rhode Island, Utah and Georgia are among those who, in the month since Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law, have announced plans to introduce similar legislation. 

The officials say states need to take matters into their own hands to tackle illegal immigration and in turn reduce the taxpayer cost associated with large undocumented populations in their hospitals, schools and prisons. They draw inspiration directly from the Arizona law, bucking the trend of local and state officials who have protested Arizona and called for boycotts against the state. 

Rhode Island state Rep. Peter Palumbo has filed a bill that looks nearly identical to Arizona's. It requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally -- provided they don't stop someone on that basis alone. The proposal empowers police to turn over illegal immigrants to federal custody and also bars local jurisdictions from limiting immigration enforcement. Several other provisions in the bill are based on Arizona's law. 

Palumbo, a Democrat, told Fox News that Arizona residents were "merely trying to protect themselves" and that the Rhode Island bill could help the state save millions every year. 

"You don't need to be a ... border state to have problems with illegals," he said, estimating the number of undocumented residents in Rhode Island at 40,000. 

Palumbo acknowledged that his state might not be as receptive as Arizona to such a bill. He said he's got about a half-dozen co-sponsors but hopes media coverage can build support. 

"It's difficult. We have a lot of progressives in Rhode Island," he said. 

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, an anti-illegal immigration group, has tracked 17 states to date where lawmakers are pushing for Arizona-style enforcement bills. 

The copycat bills and proposals are generating the same kind of opposition in other states as they did in Arizona. The Providence Journal reported that about 100 protesters demonstrated against the bill inside the Rhode Island House chamber Thursday. 

Arizona's neighbor to the west, California, has taken a lead role in slamming the state for its immigration policy. Los Angeles is among the California cities that have instituted a ban on Arizona travel and businesses. But Arizona's neighbor to the north could take a different approach. 

Utah Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, a Republican, told the Deseret News, after the Arizona law was signed, that he's already drafting a bill based on the Arizona law for next year's session. He said Arizona's action makes similar action in Utah all the more necessary, because, "when we've seen tougher legislation in Arizona a lot of illegal immigrants just move here." 

A Texas representative is looking to do the same in her state. And in Georgia, a Republican candidate for governor is pledging to work toward signing "similar legislation" if he's elected. 

"I agree with the Arizona governor and Legislature that the federal government has failed miserably at protecting our borders and enacting sensible solutions that would protect our states, counties and cities from bearing the enormous costs associated with illegal immigration, from emergency room visits to public schools to the criminal justice system," said Nathan Deal

The White House warned last month that one of the side effects of the Arizona law could be that other states try to fashion their own separate immigration policies, arguing that a comprehensive federal overhaul is the better, more sensible route. 

President Obama, who joined Mexican President Felipe Calderon this week in condemning the Arizona policy, said Wednesday that Congress must commit to passing a national bill. 

"Comprehensive reform means accountability for everybody -- a government that is accountable for securing the border, businesses being held accountable when they exploit workers, people who break the law by breaching our borders being held accountable by paying taxes and a penalty and getting right with the law before they can earn their citizenship," Obama said.