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Arizona Bill Takes Aim at Migrants

Days after a big march in Phoenix, the state's Legislature votes to make illegal immigrants subject to a criminal trespassing law.

April 13, 2006|From the Associated Press

PHOENIX — Two days after a big immigration march in Phoenix, the Arizona Legislature on Wednesday approved legislation to make illegal immigrants subject to the state's criminal trespassing law.

The Senate approved the bill on a 17-12 vote and the House followed with a 33-27 vote, with both Republican-led chambers voting nearly along party lines.

Supporters of the bill contend it would provide "a second line of defense" behind the border patrol by enabling state and local law enforcement officers to arrest illegal immigrants.

"This is a tool that law enforcement will use in a case-by-case basis. I do not envision large roundups," said Republican Sen. Chuck Gray.

But another supporter, Republican Rep. Russell Pearce, said enactment of the measure might encourage many illegal immigrants to leave or avoid Arizona, currently the busiest entry point along the U.S.-Mexico border. "Many of those folks will self-deport," Pearce said.

The bill was sent to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. She declined to say Wednesday what she'll do with it, but her office later released letters from 12 law enforcement groups and officials, including sheriffs in three border counties, urging her to veto the bill.

The bill "represents an enormous unfunded obligation for state, county and local law enforcement," Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada wrote.

Napolitano, who is running for reelection this year, vetoed a bill last year that would have given local and state law enforcement the ability to enforce federal immigration laws.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican who voted for the bill, virtually challenged Napolitano to veto it. "I think she'll pay if she does," he said.

The latest legislative action came one day after House-Senate conferees softened possible criminal penalties that illegal immigrants could face for trespassing. The federal bill also gives law enforcement officers the option of transferring arrested immigrants to federal authorities for deportation instead of keeping them in custody.

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