DENVER — Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what foes and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants, directing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.
The measure, long sought by opponents of illegal immigration, passed 35-21 in the state House of Representatives.
The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.
The bill's author, state Sen. Russell Pearce, said it simply "takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job."
But police were deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief's association opposing the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.
Immigrant rights groups were horrified, and contended that Arizona had been transformed into a police state.
"It's beyond the pale," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "It appears to mandate racial profiling."
The bill makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona. It also requires police officers, if they form a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status.
Currently, officers can inquire about someone's immigration status only if the person is a suspect in another crime. The bill allows officers to avoid the immigration issue if it would be impractical or hinder another investigation.
Citizens can sue to compel police agencies to comply with the law.