JOHN MILLER | 06/25/10 06:13 PM
BOISE, Idaho — Arizona's sweeping new immigration law doesn't even take effect until next month, but lawmakers in nearly 20 other states are already clamoring to follow in its footsteps.
Gubernatorial candidates in Florida and Minnesota are singing the law's praises, as are some lawmakers in other states far from the Mexico border such as Idaho and Nebraska. But states also are watching legal challenges to the new law, and whether boycotts over it will harm Arizona's economy.
The law, set to take effect July 29, requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they think is in the country illegally. Violators face up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines, in addition to federal deportation.
Lawmakers or candidates in as many as 18 states say they want to push similar measures when their legislative sessions start up again in 2011. Arizona-style legislation may have the best chance of passing in Oklahoma, which in 2007 gave police more power to check the immigration status of people they arrest.
Bills similar to the law Arizona's legislature approved in April have already been introduced in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Minnesota, South Carolina and Michigan, but none will advance this year.
Business, agriculture and civil rights groups oppose such legislation, saying legal residents who are Hispanic would be unjustly harassed and that immigration is a federal rather than a state responsibility. Supporters say police will not stop people solely on the basis of skin color and argue that illegal immigrants are draining state coffers by taking jobs, using public services, fueling gang violence and filling prisons.
"If the feds won't do it, states are saying, 'We're going to have to do it,'" said Idaho state Sen. Monty Pearce. Pearce's second cousin is the author of the Arizona law, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who like Monty Pearce is a Republican.
The debate is putting pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to act. In 2007, when states like Idaho and Kansas were making English their official languages as part of an immigration-related push, then-President George W. Bush failed to persuade even many Republican allies in the U.S. Senate to agree to combine increased border enforcement with a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
President Barack Obama has called Arizona's law irresponsible, but Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says it helped prompt him to send 1,200 National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexican border, mostly to her state. She and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say that's not enough.