Momentum built over years lead to AZ immigration law

by Alia Beard Rau and Mary Jo Pitzl -The Arizona Republic

Arizona’s new immigration law may have stunned the nation, but for Arizona it’s just the latest step in a decade-long battle over illegal immigration.

Over the past 10 years, the public has expressed growing frustration with a lack of action from the federal government, concern over reports of violence committed by illegal immigrants in Arizona, and support for efforts that attempt to solve the problem.

Voters have strongly endorsed state immigration laws such as requiring ID at the polls and denying public benefits to people who can’t prove they are in the U.S. legally. And they increasingly have backed conservative state political candidates, many of whom vowed to take a tough stance on illegal immigration. Those politicians, led by Mesa Sen. Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, have responded by passing and enforcing more laws targeting illegal immigrants.

This year, those factors – along with a new Republican governor, the murder of a rancher in southern Arizona and the promise of heavy conservative competition in upcoming elections – combined to open the door for the next step in immigration enforcement: Senate Bill 1070.

The new law, sponsored by Pearce and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, goes into effect July 29. It makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires law enforcement to question an individual’s legal status if an officer has reasonable suspicion the person may be in the country illegally.

Kris Kobach, the immigration attorney for the Immigration Reform Law Institute who helped Pearce craft the law and worked with him on previous efforts, said SB 1070 is just the latest piece in a larger effort.

“This law represents turning it up one more click,” Kobach said. “Increase the level a notch at a time, and people will deport themselves.”

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