PHOENIX — Arodi Berrelleza isn't one of the targets of Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigration — he's a U.S. citizen, a high school student from Phoenix.
But the 18-year-old said he's afraid he'll be arrested anyway if police see him driving around with friends and relatives, some of them illegal immigrants.
"If a cop sees them and they look Mexican, he's going to stop me," Berrelleza said. "What if people are U.S. citizens? They're going to be asking them if they have papers because of the color of their skin."
Berrelleza's concerns were echoed by Hispanics across the state Saturday, a day after Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that requires police to question people about their immigration status — including asking for identification — if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.
The new law, which will take effect in late July or early August, was cheered by many, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose tough crackdowns have made him a hero in the anti-illegal-immigration community. He said it gives him new authority to detain undocumented migrants who aren't accused of committing any other crimes.
"Now if we show they're illegal, we can actually arrest them and put them in our jails," Arpaio said.
Current law in Arizona and most states doesn't require police to ask about the immigration status of those they come across, and many departments prohibit officers from inquiring out of fear immigrants won't report crime or cooperate in other investigations.
Now, police departments seen as weak on illegal immigration could face lawsuits. The new measure also toughens restrictions on hiring illegal immigrants for day labor and knowingly transporting them.
Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the state with the most illegal border crossings, with the harsh, remote desert serving as the gateway for thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans.
A handful of protesters lingered at the state Capitol on Saturday morning, with a bigger rally expected to draw hundreds this afternoon.
Civil rights advocates vowed to challenge the law in court, saying it would undoubtedly lead to racial profiling despite Brewer's assurances.