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Republican-backed immigration ballot measure stalls in Arizona Senate

Activists said they were emboldened Tuesday afternoon following the delay of a vote on an immigration bill in the Arizona state Senate.

By Jose Gonzalez & Mary Jo Pitzl, AZCentral

Republicans are trying to pass House Concurrent Resolution 2060 as a ballot measure for November’s general election following amendments tacked on last week. The Senate vote is now slated for May 22. If it passes, a vote will come up June 4 at the House of Representatives.

"I’m hopeful for sure now," said Osvaldo Alvarez, a community organizer with Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA). "This gives us more time to spread the word on what’s going on."

Alvarez said LUCHA and other groups like Poder Latinx would coalesce to bring more opponents to the bill during votes next week at the Capitol.

Not enough votes

The Senate postponed a vote on the measure, citing the absence of a Republican senator whose vote remains crucial to reaching the 16 votes needed to pass the referral. 

But Republicans are also dealing with a series of proposed changes from Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, that might be a hard sell to some of the Senate’s hard-right conservatives.

Bennett proposes eliminating any language pertaining to people who came into the state under the provisions of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Bennett said he didn’t want to see any of those individuals punished retroactively for having come across the border years ago.

He also wants to make all offenses outlined in the measure punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor on the first offense. Currently, some offenses are felonies.

Overall, Bennett said his intent is to ensure the bill lives up to its name and keeps its focus on the border, as opposed to authorizing detentions that may happen statewide.

"I’m concerned overall about the reputation of the state and our ability to maintain a good working force for the businesses that require good workers," he said. "But people in Arizona need to be here legally."

He also said he’s concerned about what would happen to children who cross the border with their family other than at a legal port of entry. Children cannot be incarcerated with adults and the law is silent on where they would be detained. Bennett said he doesn’t have a solution for that yet.

Asked if he would vote against HCR 2060 if it didn’t meet his requirements, Bennett said there are certain things he will hold out on, although he would not detail them.

"There are some things if we don’t get, I won’t vote for it," he told reporters.

Still rallying

In the morning, activists tried entering the gallery with shirts protesting the Republican support of the bill. The single-letter shirts spelled out GOP STOP THE HATE. A security guard stopped the demonstrators from entering.About 30 activists recouped across the Capitol under the shade of trees at Wesley Bolin Plaza.Before the late morning break was over, Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, approached the activists to urge them on.The bill is "terrible legislation for our people," Hernandez said, likening HCR 2060 to SB 1070, the tough immigration enforcement bill enacted in 2010. "We saw how that tore our families apart, and that’s what we’re trying to stop."

The vote delay was a response by her colleagues to activist turnout, Hernandez told the crowd.  

"Please keep showing up. It is so, so important to see you in there and for you to take up space because these chambers, they are not friendly to our people," Hernandez said, signaling to the buildings across the plaza and past Washington Street. 

On Saturday, LUCHA and other groups rallied outside the Capitol ahead of Tuesday’s expected vote. Activists anticipated returning Wednesday for a possible House vote but after about an hour in the gallery, Alvarez alerted them of the weeklong postponement.

Organizers would celebrate the delay over lunch, he said.

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