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A border patrol agent monitors the international border in Arizona. A border patrol agent monitors the international border in Arizona.

A border patrol agent monitors the international border in Arizona.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson April 28, 2010
By Catharine Richert April 28, 2010

When Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed the nation's toughest immigration law on April 23, 2010, it sparked a fierce national debate.

Generally speaking, the law -- which would go into effect in 90 days -- makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime and requires legal immigrants to carry papers that confirm their legal status.

Opponents warned the law will lead to racial profiling, while proponents said you'd have to do something illegal before law enforcement would start questioning you about your immigration status.

Those competing perspectives arose in an exchange on the April 26 edition of the MSNBC program Hardball, and we weighed in with fact-checks of both sides.

In one item, we checked a claim from Republican state Sen. John Huppenthal, a supporter of the new law, who said it would not permit police to simply stop a car full of people who look like they might be illegal immigrants, that the police must suspect that something illegal is being committed before asking someone for proof of legal status. But we concluded that's not correct, that the law says the police officer just needs "reasonable suspicion'' that the person is an alien that is unlawfully present in the United States. The police are prohibited from using a profile based solely on racial or ethnic factors, but that standard can be sidestepped. And so we rated his claim False.

We also looked into the counterclaims from former Democratic state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez, an opponent of the law, that the law would allow a police officer to stop "anyone who appears to them to be reasonably suspicious of being an undocumented person." We concluded that while the law does appear to provide significant latitude for law enforcement officers in Arizona to question people about their immigration status, it also says the grounds cannot be based on race or ethnicity alone. We rated his claim Mostly True.

And lastly, we looked at a statement from conservative columnist George Will, who said on ABC's This Week that the new law only reiterates federal statutes. We looked at the state and federal immigration laws and found that when it comes to some of the most talked about parts of the law having to do with aliens who fail to carry their proper paperwork and who fail to register, Will is correct; federal law already makes those two provisions a crime. But the Arizona law does break some new ground, adding provisions related to picking up day laborers on the street for hire. We rated Will's claim Mostly True.

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Arizona immigration law fact-checked