PHOENIX – The Arizona Legislature has narrowed a controversial immigration law in response to allegations that the measure legalized racial profiling and forced police to determine the immigration status of everyone they encountered on the streets.
The initial law, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last week, required police to determine a person’s immigration status if officers formed a reasonable suspicion about their legality during any “lawful contact.” That led to suggestions by some legal experts that police would be obligated to scrutinize even people who asked for directions. A Phoenix police officer who patrols an area near a school sued, contending that it would require him to ask children he encounters during the day if they are in the country legally.
Lawmakers on Thursday night changed the language to require scrutiny only of people who police stop, detain or arrest. They also changed a section of the bill that barred officers from “solely” using race as grounds for suspecting someone is in the country illegally; opponents had argued that that would allow race to be a factor. The legislators removed the word “solely” to bar race from being used by officers.
“It absolutely clarifies what the intent was,” said Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Brewer, who supported the changes and is expected to sign them into law. “It’s undeniable now that this bill will not lead to racial profiling.”
Opponents of the bill, who have filed three federal lawsuits against it and promise more, said the changes would make little difference. “They’re nice cosmetic changes,” former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez said Friday during a news conference at which activists called for a boycott against Arizona and companies based in the state. “But they’re insufficient.”
The Arizona law, which also makes it a state crime to lack immigration papers, is the toughest measure against illegal immigration in the nation. It has been denounced by a wide range of people.
Lawmakers on Thursday night also added a provision extending immigration enforcement to local ordinances, which critics said could permit police to check the immigration status of people guilty of nothing more than a poorly tended lawn.