Arizona business leaders decry GOP border bills similar to Texas law stuck in legal limbo

By Wayne Schutsky, Camryn Sanchez
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 - 6:05am
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2024 - 10:42am

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Three men hold sign
Marnie Jordan/Cronkite News
(From left) Cipranio González, Raul Cordero and Rob McElwain put a sign up in protest of bills critics say are anti-immigrant at Arizona State Capitol on Feb. 1, 2024.

Several prominent Arizona business leaders called on lawmakers and Gov. Katie Hobbs to kill a package of immigration bills they say will hurt the economy. 

Hobbs already vetoed one bill that would have empowered state and local police to arrest people who illegally cross the border, but a similar bill, House Bill 2748, is moving through the Legislature. Yet another proposal would ask Arizona voters to approve penalties to make it tougher for people who cross the border illegally to work in the state.

The American Business Immigration Coalition Action held a press conference at the state Capitol in opposition to the proposed legislation, saying it will exacerbate the ongoing labor shortage. 

“It would create a climate of fear, deputizing local police and other officials to verify the immigration status of immigrants and arrest and detain otherwise law-abiding immigrant workers as they drive to work church or to take their children to school,” said Michael Deheeger, campaign director for American Business Immigration Coalition Action.

Citing figures from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Kimber Lanning, founder of Local First Arizona, says the state only has 71 available workers for every 100 open jobs. 

And John Graham, CEO of development company Sunbelt Holdings, acknowledged immigrants — including those who are not authorized to work legally in the U.S. — are important to several key industries in the state. 

“I think I could even almost use the word catastrophic,” Graham said. “You know, we already have a huge labor shortage and it's definitely affecting the ability to build things and run the economy, but even more than that is it's not fair — these people deserve to have a job, be able to work and get fair pay.”

And without those workers, Graham said, major industries will suffer. 

Woman in glasses wearing black
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Kimber Lanning in Modified Arts' 25th anniversary show in March 2024.

“These people are here, they're able to work, they want to work,” he said. “But a lot of them can't, either because they can't get the job because of documentation or they're fearful … that people would come on the site, ask for documentation and not only ask them to leave the job site, but potentially put them in jail.”

And that highlights the disconnect between the legislations’ critics — who argue the practical reality is the proposals will have a devastating effect on the economy — and Arizona Republican lawmakers, who say they are simply trying to enforce the law in the absence of action by the federal government to secure the border.

“Businesses in my community are for it, and the reason they’re for it is, have you tried to get any kind of EMS response? Have you tried to get insurance on a business?” Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise) said. “There’s so many ways this is affecting our communities and the businesses are being poorly affected by it as well.” 

She sponsored the vetoed bill.

Woman speaks into microphone and holds out papers
Sam Ballesteros/Cronkite News
Arizona state Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise) on Feb. 21, 2024.

The comments came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas SB 4 to go into effect. That immigration bill provided a template for the state immigration enforcement bills Republicans in Arizona are now backing.

A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel put the Texas law back on hold, but the Supreme Court’s ruling has emboldened those lawmakers, who are continuing to call on Hobbs to sign HB 2748 in spite of her previous veto.

However, Hobbs’ spokesperson Christian Slater said in a text that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t change anything. 

“This statement about the bill still stands,” Slater said, attaching a press release from February.

“Instead of securing our border, these bills will simply raise costs, hurt our farmers, put Arizona entrepreneurs out of business, and destroy jobs for countless working class Arizonans,” the statement said.

But Shamp and other Republicans say the ruling should matter. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow Texas' SB 4 to go into effect shows that the governor's veto was rash and hasty," Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) said in a statement.

The Republicans have pledged to send the bill back to Hobbs’ desk, and even to the ballot if she strikes it down again.

Graham and other business owners acknowledged that more needs to be done to secure the state’s southern border but said it is the federal government — not the state — that should take the lead.

“Instead, the federal government needs to move forward on real solutions, like legal work permits for long term immigrants and bipartisan border-management measures like those advanced by U.S. Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema,” Graham said.

Warren Petersen (left) and Ben Toma
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Warren Petersen (left) and Ben Toma

Irayda Flores, a business owner and recent green card recipient, said providing those work permits are needed to give security to some immigrant workers who are already contributing to the state’s economy. 

“I also have many employees that need work permits,” Flores said. “They’re working with a TIN number, they’re paying taxes — which is not fair that they cannot get any benefits.”

Speaking from experience, Flores said the lack of documentation forces those workers “to live in the shadows in fear.”

But, in the absence of those permits, Republican lawmakers said their proposals are designed to ensure employers and workers are following existing law.

"What about basic fairness for hardworking Arizonans that actually comply with the law?'' said House Speaker Ben Toma, who crafted the ballot referral. It asks voters to approve fines of up to $10,000 and possible prison terms for violations of existing laws requiring employers to verify an employee’s legal status using the federal E-Verify system.

That argument did not persuade Graham.

“I'd start by challenging, is the law correct?” Graham said. “Because there's a lot of things we enforce that's bad legislation or bad laws or bad whatever, and because it exists doesn't mean it's right.” 

If Toma’s referral makes it to the ballot, Graham said he would put money behind the campaign to defeat it. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The headline has been updated to clarify that the Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect pending the legal challenge. 

Get more Arizona politics news

KJZZ reporter Wayne Schutsky talks more about the outcry with The Show host Mark Brodie