Gov. Janet Napolitano on Monday signed a bill targeting "coyotes" and human traffickers who recruit and coerce immigrants into prostitution or forced labor.
Senate Bill 1372 is touted as a significant step in the fight against "coyotes" who have made Arizona a preferred border crossing where immigrants are often left to die in the desert or end up trapped inside temporary homes known as drop houses without food or water and are occasionally beaten up.
It is the first major bill signed by Napolitano this session.
The law gives local authorities the power to prosecute those who smuggle people across the Arizona border, which has emerged as a major transportation route for illegal immigration. It also applies to the human traffickers who transport legal or illegal immigrants to coerce them into labor or prostitution.
It makes human smuggling a Class 4 felony crime punishable by up to three years in prison. It provides stiffer penalties against those who recruit, entice or force a person into prostitution.
Dealing with immigration crimes is the responsibility of the federal government. For instance, Phoenix police alert immigration authorities when they find dozens of immigrants jam-packed in homes.
But under the new law, which becomes effective 90 days after the 2005 regular session ends, local authorities will help with that burden.
Some immigrant advocates reacted cautiously, saying they welcome any laws that protect immigrants but are worried that innocent people may pay the consequences.
Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson and a main sponsor of the legislation, said it specifically defines human traffickers and "coyotes" as those who profit from that activity. He also added that while training might be needed, local law enforcement has long dealt with border issues and thus will know how to carry out the new law.
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