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updated 7/1/2010 7:48:45 PM ET 2010-07-01T23:48:45

Police enforcing Arizona's toughest-in-the-nation immigration law are allowed to consider if a person speaks poor English, looks nervous or is traveling in an overcrowded vehicle.

They can even take into account whether someone is wearing several layers of clothing in a hot climate, or hanging out in an area where illegal immigrants are known to look for work.

But top police officials issued a stern warning to officers Thursday, telling them in a training video not to consider race or ethnicity and emphasizing that "the entire country is watching."

The officials cautioned that opponents of the law may secretly videotape police making traffic stops in an effort to prove that they are racially profiling Hispanics.

"Without a doubt, we're going to be accused of racial profiling no matter what we do on this," Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor tells officers on the video, which was posted online. The recording demonstrates how officers should determine when they can ask someone for proof they are in the country legally.

Arizona's law, sparked by anger over a surging population of illegal immigrants in the border state, generally requires officers enforcing another law — like speeding or jaywalking — to question a person's immigration status if there's a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.

Under the law, officers are also allowed to consider if a person does not have identification or tried to run away. But the stakes for making a mistake are high: Officers can be fired if they start asking questions because of a person's race, then lie about it later, the video warns.

"It is also clear that the actions of Arizona officers will never come under this level of scrutiny again," said Lyle Mann, executive director of the state agency that trains police. "Each and every one of you will now carry the reputation for the entire Arizona law enforcement community with you every day."

The law applies only to a traffic stop, a person who is detained or an arrest — not when a person flags down an officer. Police are not required to ask crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status, and anyone who shows a valid Arizona driver's license is presumed to be in the country legally.

"The entire country is watching to see how Arizona and in particular Arizona law enforcement responds," Mann said.

The law restricts the use of race, color or national origin as the basis for triggering immigration questions. But civil rights groups and some police officials argue that officers will still assume that illegal immigrants look Hispanic.

Arizona's 460,000 illegal immigrants are almost all Hispanic. Yet Arizona also has nearly 2 million Hispanics who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, about 30 percent of the state's population.

In the training video, an expert advises officers to ask themselves whether they would reach the same conclusion about a Hispanic person's immigration status if the subject were white or black.

"If any officer goes into a situation with a previous mindset that one race or one ethnicity is not equal to another's, then they have no business being a law enforcement officer in this state," Arizona Police Association President Brian Livingston said in the video.

To determine whether the person is legally in the United States, officers dealing with a suspected illegal immigrant are told to call the Border Patrol, a police officer certified to enforce immigration laws or a federal immigration hotline.

They are supposed to ask federal immigration authorities to come pick up illegal immigrants. If the feds refuse, officers can arrest immigrants or take them to a federal detention center.

The instructional video and supporting paperwork will be sent to all 170 Arizona police agencies.

Police departments will decide the best way to teach their forces. There is no requirement that all 15,000 Arizona police officers complete the training before the law takes effect July 29.

Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to develop the training program when she signed the law April 23.

Opponents have challenged the measure as unconstitutional and have asked that a federal court block it from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton plans to hear arguments on the request later this month.

President Barack Obama on Thursday called the law an understandable byproduct of public frustration with the government's inability to tighten the immigration system. But he also said it is ill-conceived, divisive and would put undue pressure on local authorities.

The law was passed in part with the lobbying muscle of unions representing rank-and-file police officers who argued that they should be allowed to arrest illegal immigrants they come across.

It was opposed by police chiefs who worried it would be expensive to implement and would destroy the trust they have developed in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Immigration debate digs into 'anchor babies'

  1. Transcript of: Immigration debate digs into 'anchor babies'

    ANN CURRY, anchor: President Obama today made a very public push for immigration reform in his first speech entirely devoted to the controversial issue. He pressed Congress to pass new laws that would both toughen up and enforce what was already on the books and create a path for citizenship for millions of people in the US illegally.

    President BARACK OBAMA: In sum, the system is broken. And everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special interest wrangling and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.

    CURRY: Many political observers, however, believe that what Mr. Obama said today may be designed more to help his party win the Hispanic vote in the upcoming midterm elections than anything else because it's unlikely that the White House and the Democrats in Congress will be able to push through a new immigration law this year.

    ANN CURRY, anchor: In his speech today the president also criticized that new and controversial law in Arizona authorizing local police to routinely check for immigration status during a traffic stop or an arrest. And as that debate rages on, some of Arizona 's and the nation's youngest citizens , children born in the US to illegal immigrants, are caught in the middle . Here's NBC's Kristen Welker.

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: These mothers do not want to be identified because they're in the country illegally, but they do want you to meet their children who they're proud to call American citizens . But some call them something else, anchor babies , considered a derogatory term for children who anchor their undocumented parents to the United States .

    State Senator RUSSELL PIERCE: It's outrageous. It's got to stop.

    WELKER: For many State Senator Russell Pierce is the face of the state 's war on war on illegal immigration . He's planning to introduce a law that requires a child born in Arizona to have at least one documented parent in order to be given citizenship at birth. This, after the state made headlines for passing Pierce 's last bill, which requires local police to check for proof of citizenship of anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally. Constitutional lawyer Dan Barr has filed lawsuits against that bill and says Pierce 's new initiative is misguided.

    Mr. DAN BARR: The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution says that all persons who are born in the United States are citizens . That's the beginning and the ending of the analysis.

    WELKER: But Pierce is unfazed.

    Sen. PIERCE: It's against the law to come into this country illegally, but yet we provide you the greatest inducement to break our laws, and that's citizenship to your child born here to illegal parents.

    WELKER: Some countries only grant citizenship to children born to at least one parent who's a citizen . And polls show Americans are pretty evenly split on the issue, with emotions running high on both sides.

    Mr. HENRY CEJUDO: I love this country. I'd die for this country.

    WELKER: The term anchor baby infuriates Henry Cejudo . Born in the US and raised by his single, undocumented mother, he went on to win gold in wrestling in Beijing as an American citizen .

    Mr. CEJUDO: Red, white and blue, I mean, that's what I bleed.

    WELKER: As the debate rages on, lawmakers here and in other states continue to grapple with the future of immigration and its next generation. Kristen Welker, NBC News, Phoenix.

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