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Arizona Democratic lawmakers walk out on vote for controversial immigration bills

Democratic lawmakers walked out of a vote at the state Capitol Wednesday to protest the latest immigration bills moving through the Arizona Senate. 

By Wayne Schutsky, KJZZ

House Bills 2748 and 2821 would make it a state crime to cross the southern border illegally and give local and state police the power to enforce immigration laws. The bills are nearly identical to a measure Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed earlier this month

Three Democratic senators boycotted a committee vote on the bills to join the protestors with Latino advocacy groups that had gathered outside the state Senate. Sens. Rosanna Gabaldón (D-Green Valley) and Flavio Bravo (D-Phoenix) said there was no need to debate the bills again after Hobbs’ veto.

“We already know the outcome,” Bravo said. “And not just that it would guarantee a veto but that it would invite further litigation, and we’re in a budget deficit right now. We don’t need lawsuits from the Department of Justice for unconstitutional proposals.” 

Activists like Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, compared the measures to SB 1070, the controversial law passed by the Legislature over a decade ago that she blamed for a rise in racial profiling by law enforcement. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the parts of SB 1070 that empowered local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.

Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, is encouraged by the president's proposal to expand Pell grants to DACA recipients, but doesn't think it goes far enough.

“We’re here for immigrants. We’re here for people that are oppressed, that are marginalized,” Ruiz said. “And we want those people in the state Capitol to hear us loud and clear: We won’t take it anymore.”

Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale) sponsored one of the bills. He said it is needed to crack down on issues like fentanyl smuggling and human trafficking. 

“Why do we have the bill here? Again, the Biden administration has neglected our border,” Chaplik said. “Typically, there’s a single reason for when people present bills. There’s about 12 million reasons here.”

Chaplik cited several high-profile crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants, including the murder of Georgia college student Laken Riley.

But Democrats and activists critical of the bills said the federal government is responsible for crafting and enforcing immigration laws. And they argued the current slate of Republican proposals are politically motivated and designed to take advantage of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed a similar Texas law to briefly go into effect before an appeals court again paused the legislation pending legal challenges. 

“These attacks on the immigrant community have to stop,” Ruiz said. “They have to find solutions to immigration instead of constantly trying to attack us.”

Gabaldón said federal lawmakers need to advance comprehensive immigration reform. 

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