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Obama Concerned About Tough New Arizona Immigration Law

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Kent Klein

A tough new immigration law has been enacted in the Southwestern U.S. state of Arizona.  U.S. President Barack Obama calls the crackdown misguided.    

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation Friday that has been described as one of America's toughest immigration laws.

The new law requires police in Arizona to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.  Immigrants are now required to carry registration documents at all times.

Governor Brewer said drug violence in Mexico, along Arizona's southern border, has forced her to act, to protect the people of her state. "We in Arizona have been more than patient, waiting for Washington to act.  But decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation," she said.

Earlier, at the White House, President Obama said the Arizona legislation is the kind of irresponsibility that could result if the U.S. government does not act responsibly on immigration. "And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe," he said.

Mr. Obama said the Justice Department will look at the new Arizona law to determine whether it is legal, and whether it might violate people's civil rights. "In fact, I have instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation, but if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country," he said.

Civil rights activists have said the bill would lead to Hispanics being targeted by police because of their race.  Hundreds of Hispanics protested the legislation at the state capitol in Phoenix on Thursday.

Before signing the bill, Brewer said she has worked with state lawmakers to ensure that the legislation will respect people's civil rights. "I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona," she said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that more than 10 million people are in the country illegally, 460,000 of them in Arizona.  Thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans enter the U.S. illegally through the state.

President Obama said the controversy over the legislation should push U.S. lawmakers of both parties to reform national immigration policies. "I will continue to consult with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and I would note that 11 current Republican Senators voted to pass immigration reform four years ago.  I am hopeful that they will join with Democrats in doing so again, so we can make the progress the American people deserve," he said.

At a naturalization ceremony for members of the U.S. military, Mr. Obama said businesses should obey immigration law and not undermine American workers.

The president also said illegal immigrants should pay their back taxes, admit responsibility for breaking the law, pay a penalty, learn English and pass criminal background checks, before they can get in line and eventually earn citizenship.

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