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Arizona immigration law must pass the prejudice test

The Arizona immigration bill lacks enough safeguards against racial or ethnic profiling by police in the fight against illegal immigration. So, too, does the federal 287(g) program that allows local enforcement of US immigration laws.

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Those seeking a firmer crackdown on illegal immigration in the US carry a particular moral burden. They must also call on law enforcement officials not to resort to ethnic or racial profiling when enforcing immigration laws.

This burden may fall particularly hard on Arizona soon.

The legislature in that state has just passed a measure that would require police officers to check the immigration status of anyone if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that person may be in the country illegally. The governor, Jan Brewer, a Republican, is now weighing whether to sign the bill.

With this act, Arizona – whose border is especially porous to illegal crossings from Mexico – would be simply taking a national trend one step further.

Local enforcement of US immigration laws has expanded since 2006, driven by rising popular demand to curb illegal immigration as well as support from Washington. Under a federal program known as 287(g), states and local agencies can voluntarily sign up with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to act with federal authority in enforcing US immigration laws – but only while making arrests for local or state crimes.

The Arizona measure would drop that key stipulation and compel police to pick up illegal immigrants “when practicable.” Citizens could even sue officials to compel such enforcement.

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