PHOENIX – Lawmakers Tuesday debated a bill that would make Arizona one of the toughest states for immigration enforcement. Outside, ranchers rallied for more border control but were drowned out by protesters voicing opposition to the tough new bill.
The Arizona House approved a bill that would draw local communities deeper into the fight against illegal immigration despite arguments from opponents that it would do nothing to keep people safer.
House Republicans advanced the measure on a 35-21 party-line vote. The Senate approved the bill in February but must concur to changes made in the House before sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer.
Supporters celebrated the bill as a tough crackdown on illegal immigration that will protect the state from violent criminals.
Arizona’s struggling economy has driven many illegal immigrants from the state. But as the economy rebounds, “so too will the illegal immigrants — larger, stronger and more destructive than they were several years ago,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.
“We need to put this law in place now so that when the new illegal immigrants come, we’re prepared to do battle with them,” he said.
The measure would create a new state misdemeanor crime of willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document. It would allow officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they’re legally in the country.
The proposal also would ban so-called soft immigration policies at local police agencies. It would allow people to sue if they feel a government agency has adopted a policy that hinders the enforcement of illegal immigration laws.
The provision is designed to target law enforcement policies that prevent officers from asking people about their immigration status, but opponents worry it will make victims and witnesses scared to work with police and prosecutors.
“This is a false hope for the people of Arizona. It’s a false sense of security for our neighborhoods,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, R-Phoenix.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who is one of Arizona’s loudest voices opposing illegal immigration.
Tuesday’s vote demonstrated Pearce’s political power at the Legislature and underscored the pressure on Republicans to support crackdowns on illegal immigration. The measure won support from all 35 House Republicans, including a handful who said they had serious concerns with the legislation.
“This bill is filled with problems, huge problems. But more importantly it will not stem the tide of illegal immigration,” Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, said before adding that he feels “obligated” to support the bill anyway.
Konopnicki said the best way to address illegal immigration is with fences, electronic surveillance, air support and more border patrol agents.
Pearce’s bill also tries to crack down on employment opportunities for illegal immigrants by prohibiting people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day-labor services on street corners.
The measure also would make it illegal for people to transport illegal immigrants if the drivers of vehicles know their passengers are in the country illegally and if the transportation furthers their illegal presence in the country.
The bill is being closely watched nationally by groups on both sides of the immigration debate.
Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, issued a statement condemning the House vote.
“Arizona has long been a laboratory for anti-immigrant experimentation, and its demagogue leaders have become folk heroes for white supremacists throughout the United States,” Newman said. “But this bill ushers in a new chapter of disgrace for the state that resisted celebrating the life of Martin Luther King.”
Arizona was one of the last states to create a holiday honoring the life of the slain civil rights leader.