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Walworth County residents sound off on controversial Arizona immigration bill

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
May 8, 2010
— "Something has to be done," Lynn Hamby said while walking on the east side of Delavan on Thursday.

Hamby, 41, was talking about what's being called the nation's toughest bill on immigration, which she would support if similar legislation was introduced in Wisconsin.


The bill, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, gives law enforcement the power to request immigration documents from anybody authorities suspect is an illegal immigrant. Officers still need a reason to stop someone, such as a driver speeding or a crime suspect. Failure to carry papers could result in detainment and a misdemeanor charge. U.S. citizens stopped and detained could get away without a charge if they produce citizenship documents, such as a birth certificate or a valid U.S. passport.


The Arizona bill is the most recent move by lawmakers in a state plagued by increasing numbers of illegal immigrants.


UW-Madison professor Jill Harrison teaches community and environmental sociology and specializes in immigration, border politics and social justice in environmental politics.


Harrison has three concerns about the Arizona law: popular mistrust of law enforcement, local authorities enforcing federal immigration laws and racial profiling.


"There are millions of people in this country who would become afraid to report crimes or seek assistance of law enforcement," she said. "There's a lot of concerns among law enforcement that they're going to have a harder time doing their community policing."


Along with having a harder time combating crime, Harrison said, enforcing federal immigration law could carry extra costs, bringing financial concerns to police departments already strained with tight budgets.


And the bill could leave room for racial profiling, she said.


"They now have the right to arrest and detain any individual who they suspect is traveling without immigration documentation, which raises a good question of how you would suspect that, other than by the skin color," Harrison said.


The Gazette asked folks in Walworth County about the Arizona issue. Here's what they think:


-- Jim Oskrum, 74, of Elkhorn is opposed to the law.


"I don't like the law myself. Something has to be done, but that law, I'm not sure about it."


Would you support similar legislation?


"Similar to it, maybe. But not exactly the way they have it. It's too broad."


-- Kirk Spangenberger, 21, of Lake Geneva supports the law.


"I think it's a good thing. There are too many illegal immigrants in this country."


Would you support similar legislation in Wisconsin?


"Yes, absolutely."


Right this minute, do you have enough documentation to prove your status in the United States?


"I have a driver's license and a Social Security card. But I don't have a birth certificate on me."


A driver's license and Social Security card are not enough to prove U.S. citizenship. Spangenberger would need his birth certificate or a valid U.S. passport.


-- Suzie Dessent of Elkhorn doesn't like the Arizona law.


"It's kind of ridiculous to have these people carry their papers all the time. And then if they don't, that's picking and choosing, too, pulling everybody over. But, then, how could you just pull over someone who you think looks like an immigrant? It's not fair either way. I think it's ridiculous that it has to come down to that."


Would you support similar legislation in Wisconsin?


"Not at all."


Do you have enough documentation on you to prove your status in the United States?


"I have a driver's license and a credit card, and that's it."


Dessent would not be able to prove her citizenship with a driver's license and credit card.


-- Phyllis Schroeder of Oconomowoc opposes the law.


"If you have a valid driver's license, I think that should be enough identification. Otherwise you're singling out a portion of the population with different rules than apply to everybody else. I would say that's an unfair law."


-- Katie Wessel, 21, of Dousman supports the law.


"I think it's a good thing to protect the people. If you're an immigrant wandering around, you should have papers."



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