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As Republicans approved strict immigration bills, opponents rallied against the ‘racist’ proposals

As Republican lawmakers unanimously greenlit bills to jail and deport migrants in the state Senate on Thursday, Arizona immigrants and Latino voter advocates rallied outside, vowing to unseat them for pushing “racist” policies. 

By Gloria Gomez, AZ Mirror

“There’s no room in our state for this racist legislation that would allow police to racially profile and harass our people,” Vanessa Perez, an organizer with Mi Familia Vota, yelled into a loudspeaker to a crowd of more than three dozen gathered in front of the Arizona Senate building. 

Inside, the four GOP members of the Senate Military Affairs and Public Safety committee cast their votes in favor of House Bill 2821 and House Bill 2748. The bills mirror a Senate version vetoed just two weeks ago by Gov. Katie Hobbs that would punish migrants who cross Arizona’s southern border anywhere but at a port of entry with up to 6 months in jail. 

Republicans, who hold a majority in the state legislature and have seized on harsh immigration policies to appeal to voters this election year, have promised to resend the legislation to the governor’s desk in a bid to paint the Democrat as weak on border security. And party leadership has indicated a willingness to circumvent the Ninth Floor by placing the proposal directly on the November ballot once the bills are inevitably vetoed. 

Outside, the Arizona Capitol courtyard resounded with chants of “When our communities are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “United, we will never be divided!” Protesters in bright blue shirts with the Mexican luchador logo of Living United For Change, a pro-immigrant advocacy group that has spearheaded the opposition of the bills, crowded around a hand painted banner denouncing the policy package as “SB1070 2.0”. 

Critics of the legislation have decried it as an extension of Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law from 2010 that allowed local police to investigate the citizenship status of people during routine traffic stops and led to widespread racial profiling. 

Attendees spoke out against the bills, highlighting the anti-immigrant sentiment behind them. 

Irma Pacheco, who was born in Mexico City, called the GOP’s move against immigrants unfair, pointing out that, historically, politicians unabashedly availed themselves of immigration to bolster the American workforce and build the country’s infrastructure. The 62-year-old’s father was recruited by the Bracero Program to help lay railroad tracks in the 1940s. 

“When they did need immigrants, they used and welcomed them,” she said. “And now they don’t want us and they’re trying to run us out. We’re not going to allow that, it’s unjust and inhumane.”

Lorenzo Escamilla Moreno, from Hidalgo, Mexico, who owns a family landscaping business, called on lawmakers to stop advancing discriminatory measures, saying that immigrants in Arizona deserve better treatment. 

“We, as human beings, deserve respect,” the 63-year-old said. “That’s what we’re demanding. None of us came to hurt anybody — all we came here to do is work. We’re your neighbors and we deserve respect.” 

Arizona Republicans have marketed the proposals as a necessary defense against a wave of criminal activity, using xenophobic language to villainize migrants and accuse them of being responsible for a multitude of problems. 

“Multiple rapes, sexual violence as well. We have crime increasing, and fentanyl,” Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, who sponsored one of the bills, told lawmakers on the Senate committee Thursday. “And the housing crisis is, essentially, created by this invasion.” 

The three Democratic members of the committee walked out of the hearing in protest on Thursday, just before discussion of the bills began, citing the uselessness of passing bills that are destined for a veto and the harm they would cause to the state’s Latino community. Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have unanimously opposed the GOP immigration bills, but with a minority on every committee panel and in the state legislature as a whole, the party is powerless to stop the proposals from advancing. 

The trio of Democrats joined the protest outside, adding their voices to the criticism of the policy proposals. Sen. Flavio Bravo, a Democrat from Phoenix, recalled his relief when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against SB1070 and slammed his Republican colleagues for backing legislation that has the potential to end in costly lawsuits, even as the state faces a $1.7 billion dollar budget deficit

In 2012, the high court struck down three of the law’s four provisions and ruled that enforcing immigration laws is under the sole and supreme authority of the federal government. That law cost the state more than $1 million in court costs. And the new proposals are likely to land Arizona back in court, if they become law. The bills are modeled on a Texas law that is currently under litigation, with the federal government arguing that it’s unconstitutional. 

“During a time when we are facing a budget deficit, do we really want to spend another $1 million dollars fighting in court about a bill that we know is unconstitutional?” Bravo asked. “It is irresponsible to repeat the same mistakes of the past. These bills are nothing but home grown bigotry in a place of policy.” 

Jeremy Garrett, a campaign manager for Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, a voter mobilization group, warned that while the courts have in the past sided with the federal government when determining who has the right to enforce immigration laws, the new makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court has been unafraid of bucking precedent. Earlier this week, the high court refused to approve a request from the Biden administration to block the Texas law from being implemented while litigation continues. Only two of the justices on the current nine member panel were on the bench in 2012 when SB1070 was ruled unconstitutional. 

The successful passage of the new legislation, Garrett said, could prove devastating. 

“With the current makeup of the Supreme Court, there’s no guarantee these bills, if challenged, would be struck down,” he said. 

And if the Republican majority makes good on its promise to send the proposal, which has been dubbed the “Arizona Border Invasion Act,” to the November ballot to avoid Hobbs’ veto pen, the only recourse left would be the courts if it’s ultimately approved by voters. 

The solution, Karina Ruiz, the executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, which advocates for increased protections for immigrants brought to the country as minors, is to show up to the polls and flip the legislature to a Democratic majority. 

“We’re watching you and what you’re doing,” she warned GOP lawmakers. “We’re going to keep coming back, and we’re going to replace you with better people, people that do care about our community.” 

Rocky Joseph Rivera urged the crowd to get involved in the upcoming election, pointing out that the Republican party holds a razor-thin one-vote majority in each chamber. Democrats need to win just two extra seats in both to gain control. 

“We’re (four) seats away from having this change!” he said. “So, these bills can never exist at all!” 

And 57-year-old Magdalena Marin, who became a naturalized citizen in 2005 and has lived in Arizona for the past 20 years, said she’s ready to make her voice heard. She’s also the mother of five children, all of whom she’s taught to be active voters. 

“These lawmakers apparently have Alzheimer’s — they’ve forgotten all the harm laws like these have done. But we’re going to give them a little pill called ‘voting,’” she said, to loud cheers from the crowd.

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