May 1, 2006

Arizona calls for crackdown as immigrants protest

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Arizona, a fast-growing
border state that is the biggest U.S. entry point for illegal
immigrants, called for a crackdown on undocumented workers on
Monday, as millions nationwide protested to demand new rights
and respect for foreign residents.

Republican legislators prepared to introduce potentially
one of the toughest state anti-immigrant proposals, a $100
million package that would deploy National Guard troops to the
desert border with Mexico and use radar to track anyone trying
to sneak across the border.

"I am not just going to stand by while this country is
being destroyed," said state Rep. Russell Pearce, a Republican
and outspoken opponent of illegal immigration.

Hundreds of people protested in Phoenix, the nation's
fifth-largest city, joining millions across the United States
who took to the streets and boycotted work and shops to focus
the nation's attention on the contribution of an estimated 12
million undocumented workers to the economy.

As the 2,000-mile (3,219-km) U.S. border with Mexico has
been fortified in heavily-populated areas, immigrants
increasingly have entered the United States by crossing the
Arizona desert.

Arizona recorded more than half of the 1.2 million arrests
made last fiscal year along the frontier.

The southwestern state has become a mecca for tourists and
retirees fleeing harsh winters, and relies heavily on illegal
immigrants, especially in the construction and service
industries, said Tom Rex, associate director of the Center for
Business Research at Arizona State University.

He said the state needs more workers. "In certain
industries, we could have even offered higher wages and still
would not have been able to fill those jobs," he said.

The bill being prepared on Monday would include strict
sanctions for employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.

"This is the kind of thing that the public has been saying
it wants for a long time," Pearce said.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, has already come
out against parts of the package, but Republican lawmakers told
Reuters they would seek to put the measure before state voters
as early as November if she vetoes it.

Arizona is home to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a
self-styled citizens group that patrols stretches of the border
with Mexico, and state voters in 2004 approved an initiative
requiring voter applicants to prove their citizenship when

"We really do feel like our state has been overrun," said
Kathy McKee, who founded and led effort behind that initiative.