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Arizona Immigration Law Fuels Debate in California

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Mike O'Sullivan

This week Monday, a coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in Washington to block a pending law in the Western U.S. state of Arizona. Arizona is on the U.S. border with Mexico, and the controversial law is a response to illegal immigration to the state. The statute will go into effect in August, but it has prompted a backlash in neighboring California and other parts of the country.

For the past few weeks, thousands have protested the Arizona law in Washington, Los Angeles, and other U.S. cities.  Last week, Los Angeles barred city officials from doing business with companies based in Arizona.   A number of other cities have done the same.

The Arizona law allows police to check someone's immigration status if they believe the person may be in the country illegally.   It also requires immigrants to carry immigration documents.

The law's critics say it encourages racial profiling.  Its defenders say it prohibits police from taking ethnic origin into account.

The law's critics also say illegal immigrants are important to the economy of the United States.  There are several million in California, and nearly 500,000 in Arizona, and they are usually indistinguishable from legal immigrants.  They work on farms, in restaurants and in service jobs.

Political analyst Raul Hinojosa of the University of California, Los Angeles, says it is impractical and inhumane to deport half a million people from Arizona. And he says the state cannot afford to lose them.

"Our estimates are minimally anywhere from 13 billion to as much as $100 billion in lost economic activity in Arizona if they were to deport the undocumented population of the state," he said.

He says a UCLA study shows that legalizing the estimated 12 million people in the country illegally could boost the U.S. economy by more than 100 billion dollars a year.

But others say the illegal immigrants put a strain on public services like schools, and hospitals.  And they says immigration laws now in place should be enforced.

In one Arizona neighborhood, a couple worries about drug crime that they say spills across the border. "The gangs.  You know, that's really what is scary about all of this," he said.

At a center for day laborers in California, immigrants say they are here to work and are concerned about what is happening in Arizona.

One, named Saul, is worried.

He says he has looked for information in the news, on the Internet and in magazines.  He says the law seems to target those of Hispanic in origin, and perhaps those without documents.

Work has been stalled on a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and Arizona Senator John McCain says finishing it will curb illegal immigration. He made the point in a television ad.

"Complete the dang fence," he said.

Thursday, a small group of undocumented students and their supporters held a protest in Los Angeles.  Organizer Cydni Bendezu says the Arizona law should be repealed.  "It's a law that does not allow students to have education or people to have life and liberty," she said.

But others say those who enter the country through legal methods would be penalized if those who entered illegally were given legal status.

Jose Veliz, an organizer with the Los Angeles day labor center, says many undocumented immigrants have been here for years.  He says they live in the shadows, and that something must be done to solve the problem.

"They don't have any access how to gain citizenship, so there needs to be some sort of reform so we could have those people legalized," he said.

Both supporters and critics of the Arizona law say the problem must be solved at the federal level and that Congress needs to tackle the controversial issue of immigration.

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