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Arizona Republicans pass new generation of ‘show me your papers’ laws

GOP lawmakers are pushing a ballot measure that bars undocumented immigrants from many taxpayer-funded social benefits.

By TJ L'Heureux, Phoenix New Times

Republicans in the Arizona House passed a bill to put a controversial immigration measure on the ballot in November that would require local governments to check a person’s immigration status before providing access to public health care, housing assistance and employment programs.

Both chambers also passed identical versions of an immigration bill that is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs once they reach her desk.

House Concurrent Resolution 2060 is the brainchild of House Speaker Ben Toma, who is running for a Valley Congressional seat in a crowded race. The House approved the bill on Thursday in a 31-28 vote, and it now goes to the Senate, which is likely to pass it. If voters approve it in November, undocumented immigrants would be barred from obtaining many taxpayer-funded social benefits starting in 2026.

The bill is designed to ensure “Arizona taxpayers do not bear the financial burden of paying for the federal government’s failure to control illegal immigration at the border," Toma said Monday during a House Appropriations Committee hearing.

The irony of the proposed law is that undocumented immigrants are Arizona taxpayers. The nonpartisan American Immigration Council found that in 2021, undocumented immigrants in Arizona paid $647.9 million in state, local and federal taxes. Despite helping fund government programs, undocumented families would not be allowed to benefit from them, even if they have lived in the state for decades.

Opponents of the initiative criticized Republican lawmakers for trying to bypass Hobbs. They also noted that the law could have a negative impact on the economy and would increase anti-immigrant sentiment in the same way the infamous SB 1070 law did after the legislature passed it in 2010.

“Anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070, like HCR 2060, do nothing but negatively affect our labor market, cause national disgrace and lead to heightened discrimination of people of color,” said Lena Avalos, policy director at Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) during a House Appropriations Committee hearing for the bill on Monday.

Though the initiative would further marginalize undocumented immigrants in Arizona, it’s worth noting that it would make no changes to immigration enforcement or border security.

Bills make it state crime to cross the border

Republicans in both chambers also approved legislation — House Bill 2821 and Senate Bill 1231 — that allow state and local officials to enforce immigration policy, even though that enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. The measures, which also protect protect law enforcement from civil liabilities, are modeled after a recent, highly controversial Texas law that critics say will lead to more policing with less accountability.

Jennifer Holder, an attorney for the House Rules Committee told lawmakers on Monday that many of the provisions in HB 2821 were likely to be deemed unconstitutional.

Still, Republicans are willing to take their chances. “Frankly, I think this Supreme Court will back the protection of the borders of the United States,” said state Sen. John Kavanagh, a Scottsdale Republican.

The House voted to pass HB 2821 in a 31-28 vote on Thursday. SB 1231 passed on Wednesday in a 16-13 vote in the Senate. The bills now go to the other chamber for consideration. Also Thursday, the House passed HB 2748 — which is similar to HB 2821 and SB 1231 — in a 31-28 vote. Hobbs is expected to veto the bills if they reach her.

“We know the outcome of this. It will be promptly vetoed,” said state Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez, a Phoenix Democrat. “In the interest of saving us all time, I would ask all of my members on the other side who are in support of this to not bring these things up.”

During debate in the House, Republicans lamented a lack of action from the federal government to slow the surge of migrants entering the country, a statement with which many Democrats agreed.

The criticism comes after top Republicans in Washington, D.C., rejected a bipartisan Senate bill that provided $20 billion in funding for the border after former President Donald Trump asked them to ensure the bill's demise and not give President Joe Biden a political win.

“Congress finally has the strongest immigration reform bill that we’ve seen,” said state Rep. Lorena Austin, a Mesa Democrat. “The ink is barely dry on this bipartisan bill, an agreement that would provide resources that the border needs but has been cast aside because Republicans are refusing to take action on the issue they say they care about the most.”

In 2023, the southern border saw a record number of migrant encounters, though January encounters in Arizona were far lower than each of the previous three months.

State Rep. Joseph Chaplik, a Scottsdale Republican, is the sponsor of HB 2748 and a co-sponsor of HB 2821. “I stand for legal immigration, but we as a country cannot sustain this kind of volume coming through our border,” Chaplik said Wednesday.

He also spoke at length about immigrants entering the country, insinuating that the U.S. is being overrun by enemies of the state and criminals.

Chaplik mentioned Raad Almansoori, who was arrested this week at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Police say he stabbed two women in the Valley after killing another in New York City. Chaplik cited Almansoori as an example of the criminals entering the country illegally.

“Recently, in Scottsdale, they arrested a gentleman, Raad Almansoori, who murdered a woman in New York allegedly. He just got picked up. Hours before the arrest, he attacked an employee in a bathroom in McDonald’s in Surprise. He stabbed a woman in another stall three times in the neck. And the police say he’s suspected of stabbing another woman at a robbery with a knife,” Chaplik said. “This is what’s coming across our border.”

Yet Almansoori is an American citizen who was born in Arizona, according to police documents.

‘I remember the fear in my mother's eyes’

Opponents of the bills have taken to collectively calling them “SB 1070 2.0,” a reference to the infamous "show me your papers" bill that was signed into law in 2010 and allowed local and state law enforcement to crack down on illegal immigration, creating a culture of fear in Latino communities. The law sparked boycotts and had a detrimental economic impact on Arizona, which became a national disgrace before three of the bill’s four provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.

The bill’s sponsor, Russell Pearce, earned Phoenix New Times’ 2023 “Best Death of a Racist” award.

Alejandra Gomez is the executive director of LUCHA, a progressive Latino advocacy group that was founded in the wake of SB 1070. She called the bills racist and divisive in a press release.

“Speaker Ben Toma and Republicans are launching an assault against the diverse fabric of Arizona by targeting immigrant communities, and dismissing their contributions to the state's culture, and economy,” Gomez said. “Speaker Toma is choosing politics over the welfare of Arizona, just to score political points or for a fundraising pitch. Playing politics with Arizona’s economy and threatening families is not what Arizonans do, and should be unequivocally rejected.”

During debate on the bill, state Sen. Rosanna Gabaldón recalled the oppressive aftermath of SB 1070. “Within 12 months, I was pulled over more than 10 times by law enforcement,” she said.

She also told a story about her mother, an immigrant who became an American citizen.

“My mother would carry her passport with her because she was so afraid that someone was going to stop her and ask her questions. My mom, who worked very, very hard to become an American citizen and was proud when she became an American citizen, is being stopped by law enforcement,” an emotional Gabaldón said.

Gabaldón added that she told her mother to put her hands on the dashboard of the car and not give officers a reason to do anything to her.

“I remember the fear in my mother’s eyes. This is gonna begin again,” Gabaldón said.

Several Democratic lawmakers also cited SB 1070 as a primary reason for getting active in politics and government and noted the law fueled a progressive movement.

“I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for SB 1070,” said state Sen. Juan Mendez during a vote on one of the bills.

“I think sometimes my colleagues on the other side of the aisle underestimate the consequences to their seats,” said state Sen. Anna Hernandez, a Phoenix Democrat. “This bill is going to mobilize the new wave behind that, and there’s going to be a whole new generation of activists, of youth, of immigrants, that are going to get involved.”

Hernandez also spoke directly to her Republican colleagues.

“So in the future, when you wonder when Arizona starts voting more and more Democrats into office at every level of government, remember that it is going to be tied to SB 1231 and policy like it,” Hernandez said.

With the 2024 election approaching, HCR 2060 could be on the ballot along with a measure allowing the state to vote on enshrining reproductive freedom in the Arizona Constitution.

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