There are plenty of features of the law that critics find objectionable. Among them are the penalties. Under federal law, violations of immigration statutes by someone in the U.S. illegally may in some cases be punished with a jail sentence but are often penalized by deporting the individual instead, if the government proves its case to a judge through a comprehensive set of procedures. Arizona, lacking the authority to deport anyone, will enforce jail sentences laid out in its new law for, say, failing to carry one’s immigration authorization documents or soliciting day work by the side of the road, said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigrants’ rights group. While the federal system is far from perfect (thousands of people are locked up in federal detention centers indefinitely awaiting deportation decisions), the addition of new immigration crimes at the state level with jail time attached isn’t the answer, she added.
Delaware lawmakers are researching legislation in other states that could be the basis of an immigration bill here, including Arizona's controversial new law and Oklahoma's 2007 measure, which once was considered the most restrictive in the country.
"The argument that the Justice Department is making here, is you know, the fundamental question, which is where does state authority begin and end when it comes to federal immigration law?" said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council.
The new law, which won't take effect until the summer, compels police to seek identification of individuals they suspect might be in the country illegally - something civil rights advocates believe will lead to racial profiling and other abuses. Despite those concerns, 12 state legislatures have introduced, or are considering, similar legislation, according to a recent analysis by the Immigration Policy Center, the research arm of the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group.
Some police departments argue federal immigration enforcement undermine their core missions, said Wendy Feliz Sefsaf of the American Immigration Council.
"It [Arizona's law] goes against all the goals of community policing," she said. "There's definitely law enforcement out there saying this kind of thing doesn't work."
In fact, last week police chiefs from Los Angeles, Tucson, Houston, Philadelphia and other cities, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and said laws like Arizona's would lead to increases in crime.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said Arizona's law "will likely hinder" federal efforts to detain and remove "dangerous criminal aliens." Calling for immigration reform on the national level, she said "this issue cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws."
The flurry of local legislation is adding to the pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and avoid adding to a hodgepodge of laws regulating immigration.
“There is real frustration because our immigration system is broken,” said Michele Waslin of the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center. “But you also need to look at what this type of legislation says about you as a city.”
Right now, the Obama Administration has misplaced priorities when it comes to border security. The American Immigration Council believes policy makers must make a distinction in any comprehensive immigration reform package between undocumented immigrants crossing the border and the drug induced violence of the drug cartels. “But cracking down on unauthorized immigrants in the United States is not going to diminish violence in border communities because unauthorized immigrants aren't the perpetrators, criminal cartels are.”