Arizona Republicans move controversial immigration bills despite Hobbs veto threat

By Wayne Schutsky
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 5:27am
Updated: Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 11:11am

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Republican lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature advanced multiple immigration bills Wednesday that drew comparisons to the controversial SB 1070 immigration law that passed over a decade ago.

Sen. Janae Shamp’s (R-Surprise) Senate Bill 1231, also called the Arizona Border Invasion Act, would make it a state crime to cross Arizona’s southern border illegally.

It would essentially duplicate federal law by prohibiting a person from entering Arizona from Mexico outside a port of entry, or reentering the state if they had already been deported.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it is the federal government, not the state, that is responsible for immigration law and border security.

But Shamp said the bill will empower state and local law enforcement to arrest individuals at the border, arguing that the federal government has failed to fulfill its duty to secure the border. 

“Every single day Joe Biden allows this invasion at our southern border to continue, the lives of Arizonans remain in grave danger,” Shamp said in a statement. 

Woman in cowboy hat and glasses speaks
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
State Sen. Janae Shamp at the Arizona Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

The Arizona Senate passed the bill on a part-line vote on Wednesday.

Similar bills sponsored by Reps. Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale) and Steve Montenegro (R-Goodyear) survived procedural votes with only Republican support in the Arizona House of Representatives. 

Democrats compared the bills to SB 1070, the immigration law passed by Arizona lawmakers in 2010 that was partially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court after a majority of justices found sections empowering state and local police to enforce immigration laws conflicted with federal law.

They said SB 1070 disproportionately affected specific groups and that they believed the new legislation would have a similar impact.

“Within 12 months, I was pulled over more than 10 times by law enforcement,” Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Green Valley) said of her experience after lawmakers passed SB 1070. “And when I asked why did you pull me over, they said, “You don't belong here, you are here illegally, I need you to prove your citizenship.’”

Republicans say the legislation is needed to address an unprecedented number of migrants crossing the state’s border. Rep. Justin Heap (R-Mesa) cited reports indicating that those individuals come from dozens of countries outside of central and south America, including Senegal, Bangladesh and China.

“We are still talking as if these people that are flooding into our country are simply migrant field workers from Guatemala who are just looking for a better life and they are coming up here to work,” Heap said. “What is happening at the border and south is a humanitarian crisis. Once the Biden administration opened the border, this became a human smuggling operation by the cartels.”  

Again alluding to the fallout over SB 1070, Rep. Lorena Austin (D-Mesa) argued the new bills would also hurt the economy.

“Make no mistake, this is SB 1070 2.0 … we saw companies leave the state, we lost national opportunities to host events, and these consequences will also target and criminalize 30% of Arizonans,” Austin said. 

A study by the Center for American Progress in 2011 estimated the state lost $141 million in lodging and commercial revenue in the wake of SB 1070.

A crowd of SB 1070 opponents outside the U.S. Supreme Court
Victoria Pelham/Cronkite News Service
A crowd of SB 1070 opponents outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.

But the arguments over those bills likely won’t matter in the end.

Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez (D-Phoenix) pointed out that Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs will veto the bills if they pass through both houses of the Legislature.

The governor’s office confirmed Quinonez’s speculation, saying the governor prefers to direct resources to Operation Secure, which would use state funds to create a border coordination office within the Arizona Department of Homeland Security to support local officials and law enforcement near the border and respond to humanitarian issues.

“From day one Gov. Hobbs has taken strong action to secure our border and is fighting for increased funding to combat the fentanyl epidemic and expand Operation SECURE,” spokesman Christian Slater said in a statement. “SB 1231 is unconstitutional, will not secure the border, and will drive away businesses and jobs from Arizona. She will not sign it.”

But a third Republican proposal — House Speaker Ben Toma’s HCR 2060 — would bypass Hobbs’ veto pen altogether. Because it is a resolution, and not a bill, it will go before voters for final approval if it passes through the Arizona House and Senate. 

Toma, who is running for Congress in the West Valley, pulled the resolution from a procedural vote on Wednesday, just one day after his congressional campaign sent a press release calling it “one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration laws ever written.”

HCR 2060 would have strengthened existing statutes that require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to determine the immigration status of people they hire. The new legislation included fines of up to $10,000 and possible prison terms for violations of the law. 

It would also require state and local officials to use E-Verify  to determine the legal status of those seeking public benefits or licenses.

Toma said he held the bill to work on amendments to address a requirement that independent contractors also be run through E-Verify.

“There was some that understood it to mean that you have to somehow verify the independent contractor status of other companies that you hire and that was never the intent,” Toma said. 

Man speaks at podium with group behind him
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma answers questions Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.

Democrats are also opposed to Toma’s proposal and accused him of politicizing the issue to benefit his congressional campaign. 

“I think what he’s proposing has more to do with his run for Congress than actually solving the problem, but I understand legislators’ frustrations in line with Arizonans’ frustrations about Washington’s failure to act,” Gov. Katie Hobbs said. 

“That’s convenient, isn’t it,” Toma said of the governor’s comments. He criticized the governor, saying she has done little to address issues at the border beyond sending National Guard troops to support local law enforcement, which he said started under former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. 

“I agree with her on that,” Toma said. “I think she should send the National Guard. I’m not critiquing that in any way. I’m just saying there is a lot of talk and not really any actual substance.”

Toma said he supports actions like those taken by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has come into direct conflict with the federal government over who has the authority to police that state’s border with Mexico.

Like the Arizona bills, a new Texas law expanded the state’s ability to enforce immigration law. The Biden administration challenged the law in court, arguing it violates the Constitution, according to Texas Public Radio.

“[Texas] thinks it’s legal, and I support their chances and I would agree with them that it is,” Toma said. “Having said that, we’ll see what the courts decide on that.”

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