The anti-immigrant "madness" currently unfolding in Arizona demonstrates the urgent need for President Obama and Congress to do more in overhauling the broken U.S. immigration system, say pro-immigration reform advocates.
Immigrant rights activists argue Arizona state lawmakers are about to enact one of the most backward anti-immigrant measures ever, which would give local police the right to stop anyone on "reasonable suspicion" and question their legal status.
The law, SB-1070 was passed 35-21 in the state House of Representative and makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona. It would grant local enforcement agencies the right to arrest undocumented suspects and those who cannot prove their legal status.
The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year and Republican Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.
Currently, immigration offenses are violations of federal law, not state law, and local police officers only can inquire about a person's immigration status if that person is suspected of another crime.
Critics say the Arizona bill in question, if signed into law would be a green light for even greater racial and ethnic profiling by local police officials.
David V. Hernandez, executive vice president with the Arizona AFL-CIO and executive director with the Maricopa Labor Federation, said in a phone interview, "Arizona is becoming more and more of a police state. Average people here are becoming less secure in our own communities and fear our own government. And this is especially very concerning for all Latinos in the state."
Hernandez notes, "The people with the least amount of power here remain to be the easiest victims of such draconian measures and American citizens feel less equal because of such laws."
He adds that on the ground there are many people fighting for the rights of immigrants. But recently at pro-immigrant rallies, which are attended by civilized and non-violent groups, they continue to be met with increasing aggressive hostility, he said.
"The tolerance of intolerance is becoming more and more the norm and the media here continues to give credibility to anti-immigrant rights groups who say they're cracking down on ‘illegal aliens,'" said Hernandez.
Hernandez says he's been pulled over twice by the police and on one occasion was handcuffed and searched with his children in the car. He said he was asked if he is a U.S. citizen, never given a ticket and was eventually released.
"I should have never been pulled over in the first place," he said.
Local police are not trained to deal with federal immigration issues, says Hernandez.
"People need to be reminded what our values are as Americans - a basic understanding of human rights where everyone is treated with dignity and respect," he said.
Meanwhile on Thursday the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested 47 people in Phoenix saying it was targeting an illegal smuggling network that allegedly used rogue shuttle firms to transport thousands of immigrants from Arizona-Mexico border north to the U.S.
Speaking on a conference call Friday Isabel Garcia with the Tucson-based Coalition for Human Rights said over 800 ICE agents wearing ski-masks and carrying loaded weapons led the raid becoming the largest enforcement action in recent history.
"This massive show of force was meant to terrorize our communities," she said.
"We are demanding answers by the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security because what is happening in Arizona is simply unacceptable," said Garcia.
Immigrant rights activists say what's needed is leadership from the top to do the right thing even if it's unpopular - a sweeping overhaul of the country's broken immigration system. And if the federal government doesn't get it done it gives state lawmakers like those in Arizona the power to take it upon themselves to pass draconian anti-immigrant laws, they charge.
"As bad as it is now, it's only going to get worse unless President Obama or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano take a forward moving position on what's right," said Hernandez.
"We cannot allow people at the state level to continue and get away with such madness that violates our basic constitutional rights," he said.
"There just doesn't seem to be a lot of courage out there to get the immigration reform issue resolved and the longer they let this get un-addressed the more anti-immigrant sentiments get accepted," adds Hernandez.
And Arizona - with it's ongoing anti-immigrant fear tactics, growing police distrust and clear bigotry could continue to become the pilot program for the rest of the country, says Hernandez.
Civil rights leaders are urging Arizona Governor Brewer to veto the bill, which they say would open the door to unjustly discriminate against immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. Until Congress passes an immigration reform bill, states will continue to take matters into their own hands and communities and families will remain terrorized, they add.
"The urgency of fixing this broken system cannot be overstated," said NCLR President Janet Murguia in a recent statement. "The more that time passes, the more families are broken apart, opportunities for education are denied, and our values as Americans are eroded," she said.