Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law on Friday a contentious immigration bill that has drawn heavy criticism from President Obama and a group of Christian leaders.
In addition to the bill, which imposes some of the nation's toughest laws on illegal immigrants, Brewer also issued an executive order requiring more training to police officers on how to carry out the new laws without being guilty of racial profiling.
On Friday, prior to the bill's signing, President Obama criticized the legislation as "misguided" and said it threatens to "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans" and weakens the trust between police and their communities. Obama said he has directed members of his administration to monitor the bill closely to see what effects it might have on civil rights.
Under the legislation, immigrants in Arizona are required to carry their alien registration documents at all times. State police, meanwhile, are given the authority to interrogate, arrest and charge people suspected of illegally entering the country. Officers can arrest people who cannot prove their legal residency upon questioning – a change from the previous law, which allowed officers to check someone's immigration status only if the person was suspected of another crime.
Other new laws include prohibiting people from blocking traffic for reasons related to day labor services and making it illegal for people to deliberately transport illegal immigrants.
Critics of the legislation say it amounts to racial profiling since police are not trained to know how to identify illegal immigrants.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese in his blog Sunday denounced the immigration legislation as "retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless."
Mahony also said the bill would encourage "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques." Such a law, he said, would encourage people to "turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation."
"Are children supposed to call 911 because one parent does not have proper papers? Are family members and neighbors now supposed to spy on one another, create total distrust across neighborhoods and communities, and report people because of suspicions based upon appearance?" the cardinal wrote.
A group of 14 Arizona religious leaders, mostly pastors from mainline denominations, recently sent a letter to the Arizona governor urging her to veto the bill. They said the bill, among other problems, would make immigrants too scared to approach the police, even to report a crime.
Proponents of the immigration bill, however, say the new laws would help the state's crime problem. Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the measure, defends his bill by pointing to the state's crime rate and to the recent murder of local rancher. The rancher, who lived near the Mexico border, is suspected of being murdered by an illegal immigrant involved in drug trafficking.
"When do we stand up for Americans and America? Enough is enough," Pearce told Fox News on Tuesday. "Arizona has become ground zero. We're number two in the world in kidnapping … We're not taking it anymore. We're going to enforce our laws, with compassion."