Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arizona Republican lawmakers pushing bill that would allow state and local police to arrest people who have crossed the border illegally

An unidentified Border Patrol agent speaks to migrants along the border fence where it meets Cocopah tribal land in Yuma County on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
An unidentified Border Patrol agent speaks to migrants along the border fence where it meets Cocopah tribal land in Yuma County on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers rushed through final action Wednesday on a measure aimed at border crossers and sent it to Gov. Katie Hobbs who already has said she will veto it.
Members of the House used a procedural maneuver to avoid having a hearing on SB 1231 which would allow state and local police to arrest people who have crossed the border illegally. The measure, approved earlier this month by the Senate, normally would go to at least one House committee where members of the public could weigh in.
Wednesday's maneuver also bypassed normal floor debate. And Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, using his position as speaker pro-tem, allowed only two lawmakers on each side of the issue to speak, each for no more than three minutes.
And when that was done, the Republican-controlled House approved the measure on a 31-28 party-line vote. The Senate, as the originating body, then sent the measure to the governor.
House Speaker Ben Toma said it was his decision to use the unusual procedure to avoid further debate.
"The sooner we pass SB 1231, the sooner the state can protect its citizens from the crisis caused by the Democrats' willful refusal to secure the border,'' he told Capitol Media Services.
And what of the fact that Hobbs already has said she would veto it?
"Then she needs to explain to Arizonans why she's running cover for the Biden administration,'' said Toma who is a Republican candidate for Congress.
Even with that promised veto, that short-circuiting of the procedures angered Rep. Analise Ortiz.
"I think there are members of the public with lived experience of when Arizona tried to do this ... whose voices are valuable to be heard,'' she said, referring to SB 1070.
That 2010 law, like this proposal, also sought to empower police to stop and detain those not in the country legally. And it resulted in many people complaining of racial profiling before some of its key provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We are cutting them out from being heard in the process,'' said the Phoenix Democrat of bypassing the committee hearings and floor debate and going directly to a roll-call vote.
But Rep. Steve Montenegro pointed out that there was a hearing on this bill in the Senate, along with floor debate. And the Goodyear Republican said there also was a hearing and debate, not on SB 1231 but on the identically worded HB 2821 which he is sponsoring.
Hobbs, who is in Mexico on a trade mission, has until Tuesday to act on the legislation.
The measure, now headed to Hobbs, is built on the idea that states can play a legal role in enforcing federal immigration laws. What makes that argument critical now, Montenegro said, is the current situation.
"There is a crisis at the border,'' he said, saying he was acting for "every mother and father, for every person, every Arizonan that has been affected by the crime that is pouring across our border ... where people are losing their lives, people are losing their property, they're losing their livelihood.''
All that, said Montenego, is because the federal government -- and, specifically the Biden administration -- is not doing its job. And he said it was the states which empowered the federal government to do certain things.
"One of those is to protect our borders,'' Montenegro said. "And when the federal administration refuses to do that, we as states must step in.''
The measure sent to the governor seeks to make it a state crime for someone who is not a citizen or here in this country legally "to enter or attempt to enter this state directly from a foreign nation at any location other than a lawful port of entry.''
What was not debated in this new Arizona measure is how police, unless they are actually on the border watching people cross through the fence, can determine that someone entered the country illegally.
While the measure makes that a misdemeanor, the real aim appears to be to get people deported. That's because it allows a judge to dismiss the charge if someone agrees to leave the country voluntarily.
That argument about the role of the federal government sidesteps the larger question of whether, even with its failure to act, the state can come in and start arresting people who are not here legally.
Arizona fought that battle over SB 1070.
The U.S. Supreme Court voided key provisions of that law, including one that would have allowed state and local police to make warrantless arrests if they believe a person is violating federal immigration law. The justices said only when the attorney general has granted enforcement authority to local police can they decide that someone is here illegally.
The court left untouched another provision that requires that police officers, when possible, check the immigration status of those they believe are not in the country legally.
But in that case, the justices said they were not saying the provision is legal but simply could not tell whether it could be enforced without running afoul of other law.
And there's something else: That "papers, please'' provision applies only when someone has already been pulled over for any other reason. It does not permit traffic stops simply to check legal presence.
As to what would happen with this measure, it is modeled after a measure signed in December by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
That resulted in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice -- the same agency that got the Supreme Court to overturn much of SB 1070. And at a hearing earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra questioned whether each state is entitled to enforce its own immigration laws.
"That turns us from the United States of America into a confederation of states,'' he said. "That is the same thing the Civil War said you can't do.''
He has yet to issue a ruling.
Rep. Lorena Austin told colleagues they don't have to look far for what would happen if this new legislation were to become law. There is the experience of what happened after SB 1070 was enacted in 2010.
"Thousands of people were being illegally stopped and targeted,'' the Mesa Democrat said. And Austin said that affected more than just those people who were targeted.
"That shame is still something that clouds this state,'' Austin said, with people saying they get negative reactions when they tell others they are from Arizona.
"Is this the kind of state that we want to show the country?'' Austin asked. "Is that the kind of state we want to show the world?''
Rep. Tim Dunn, however, said he wants to send a different message.
"We have a catastrophe on our border and we need to send a signal that we are not going to stand for an assault,'' said the Yuma Republican. "This is that signal.''
Dunn also said this has nothing to do with race and everything to do with law.
"We have 15,000 people a day that cross the border in Yuma, legally cross and that ship America's produce, he said. "We can do it legally.''
Ortiz predicted costs to the state in fighting the inevitable federal lawsuit.
"But more important than the fiscal impact is the emotional impact that SB 1231 will have on our Latino community,'' she said.
"We will not stand for it any more,'' Ortiz said. "This is not the Arizona of 2010.''
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia