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Arizona border security legislation stalled temporarily

Ken Bennett, right, chats with fellow senators Janae Shamp and David Gowan Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer
Ken Bennett, right, chats with fellow senators Janae Shamp and David Gowan Tuesday on the Senate floor.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Border security legislation stalled Tuesday, at least temporarily, amid concerns by one senator about some of its provisions.

Ken Bennett told Capitol Media Services that some of what is HCR 2060 is a non-starter. The Prescott Republican said that includes making some violations of the law felonies, meaning prison sentences.

But Bennett objected in particular to language that would make "dreamers'' who are currently here legally subject to arrest and deportation if voters were to approve the measure in November.

HCR 2060 is designed to allow state and local police to arrest anyone who is not a legal resident if they have entered Arizona from Mexico at other than an official port of entry.

As originally crafted by Sen. Janae Shamp, there were several exceptions. And those included individuals granted legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program first approved a decade ago by the Obama administration. It allows those who were brought here illegally as as children to remain without fear of deportation and even gave them permission to work.

There are no new DACA applications being processed. But at last count, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said there were more than 20,000 DACA recipients in Arizona, the fourth highest of any state.

But Shamp, a Surprise Republican, added language during floor debate last week saying DACA recipients would lose their immunity under HCR 2060 if the program is canceled or there is a final federal court ruling that the program is unlawful.
Donald Trump attempted to do that when he was president. But that was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bennett said he doesn't want that future possibility -- and the chance that HCR 2060 would apply to them -- hanging over DACA recipients.

"This was only supposed to be prospective,'' he said of the measure. "I don't want anything in here that could be applied retrospectively whether or not the DACA program is canceled in the future by whoever it might be canceled by.''

Bennett said his position in line with claims by supporters that the legislation was designed to stop people from entering the country illegally. What it was not designed to do, they said, is create something like SB 1070, a 2010 law, which sought to give new authority to allow state and local police to detain anyone, anywhere in the state, who is not in this country legally.

Key provisions of that 2010 law were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court which concluded that the measure illegally sought to give state authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Shamp said this is different.

"We're not trying to enforce immigration policy'' she said when she introduced the first version of her proposal in January. "We're trying to give our state and local law enforcement officers the tools they need to protect Arizona citizens.''

Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed Shamp's first version in March.

"This bill does not secure our border,'' the governor wrote. She also said it "will be harmful for communities and businesses in our state, and burdensome for law enforcement personnel.''

And then there is the fact, Hobbs said, that the legislation "presents significant constitutional concerns'' that "would be certain to mire the state in costly and protracted litigation.''

Rather than give up, Shamp attached the language to an unrelated ballot measure being pushed by House Speaker Ben Toma dealing with things like requiring government agencies to verify the immigration status of those applying for public benefits. It also added in stiff new penalties for those who sell fentanyl if it results in someone's death.

And by sending it to the ballot, it bypasses the governor.

That is what was supposed to be up for a vote Tuesday -- until Bennett demanded changes. He said it comes down to bringing the bill back to what was promoted.

"I'm concerned with whether or how we could improve the bill to make sure the bill is used almost exclusive for the purpose it's been described to all of us, and that is for border enforcement, not massive enforcement in the interior of the state,'' Bennett said. "I'm looking at some language that's been suggested by some groups that addresses exactly that.''

His concerns are not just about DACA. Bennett said there is no need for some of the penalties in the bill to be felonies.

And he said there is flawed language that allows someone, rather than face jail time, to be voluntarily deported to Mexico. But Bennett said sending someone to Mexico makes no sense if the individual started out from another country.

Bennett said if the changes he wants are made he can support the measure.

His vote is crucial.

It takes 16 votes for any measure to gain final approval of the Senate. And that means every one of the 16 Republicans has to support it, as no Democrats are willing to go along.

Hobbs and her administration are doing what they can to undermine support. And some of that involves claims of what the measure could cost Arizona taxpayers.
Ryan Thornell, the governor's pick to head the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, for example, put out a study claiming the law would result in an additional 1,500 inmates per year, boosting operating, food and healthcare costs by nearly $252 million by 2029.

That agency is involved because HCR 2060 says it is responsible to hold those arrested or convicted of any offense in the measure if county or local law enforcement do not have the capacity in their jail system.

But what the report does not say is how long any individual will remain in the prison system.

That is a critical number because the measure actually says that anyone arrested for a first-time offense of crossing the border illegally can instead actually agree to be deported instead of risking conviction and time behind bars. And there are no estimates of how many of the 1,500 who are caught -- a figure that the governor's office says comes from the Department of Public Safety -- would choose deportation versus incarceration.

Separately, business groups are urging lawmakers not to put the measure on the November ballot. On Tuesday, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council added its voice in a prepared statement.

"GPEC has serious concerns with the constitutional legalities and bill complexities of HCR 2060 that would create potential hardship for our state's economy and our residents,'' said the organization which is devoted to attracting new business to the area. "The provisions pose a significant risk to Arizona's brand and our ability to continue to attract high-value companies to the region.''

Bennett said that is an issue.

"I'm concerned overall with the reputation of the state and our ability to maintain a good working force for the businesses that require good workers,'' he said. But Bennett said there's a larger issue.

"People who are in Arizona need to be here legally,'' he said. "We have lots of jobs for people who are here.''


On X and Threads: @azcapmedia

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