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Skipping public hearings, Republicans rammed through a bill to enforce federal immigration law

Gov. Katie Hobbs has already denounced the bill, guaranteeing it will be vetoed.


By Gloria Rebecca Gomez, AZ Mirror


Capitalizing on an election-year focus on immigration, GOP lawmakers rammed through a bill on Wednesday that would give Arizona police officers the power to arrest migrants and Arizona judges the authority to deport them — in blatant violation of federal law. 


“When the federal government refuses to do its job and protect its citizens from foreign invasion, from lawlessness at our border, then we reserve the right as states to step in and protect our people,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro. 


The Republican from Goodyear used a procedural move to suspend legislative rules in the state House of Representatives and force a final vote on Senate Bill 1231, effectively priming it to skip public hearings in the lower chamber and be sent directly to the governor’s desk, where a veto is guaranteed. 


Democrats denounced the decision to truncate the legislative process and expressed vehement opposition to the measure, warning that it would only result in widespread racial profiling. 


Dubbed the “Arizona Border Invasion Act,” the bill makes it a crime to cross the state’s southern border anywhere but the ports of entry. Migrants facing a first offense under the act could be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor that could lead to a six-month jail sentence, unless they agree to return to Mexico voluntarily. Decision-making for who to detain and investigate is left entirely up to law enforcement officials.


The proposal is a priority for the Republican Party this session, which backed three near-identical versions in both chambers. Montenegro, who sponsored the House version of the legislation, justified the decision to preempt public input on the Senate iteration that was strong-armed through on Wednesday by saying that its mirrors have undergone sufficient discussion. 


Critics of the trio of proposals, including immigrant rights groups and dozens of local businesses, have slammed the package as “SB1070 2.0”. 


Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, said the bill was a clear repetition of SB1070, the state’s infamous “show me your papers law” from 2010, and would return Arizona to the notoriety that it had worked to get beyond. She added that the state has no authority to enforce immigration law, and the bill would only serve to harm Arizonans. 


“It is not the state’s place to enforce federal immigration law,” she said. “When we do that, we subject entire communities to terror, to racial profiling and to harassment.” 


The courts have repeatedly concluded that enforcing immigration law is under the sole purview of the federal government. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of four provisions in SB1070, declaring them illegal infringements of federal authority. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Justice challenged the Texas law that the Arizona Border Invasion Act is modeled after, arguing that it is unconstitutional.


But with the 2024 election fast approaching and immigration emerging as the top voter concern, Republicans across the country have embraced harsh border security policies. 


Rep. Tim Dunn, a Republican who represents Yuma, one of the state’s two border sectors that has seen a dramatic increase in migrants and asylum seekers in recent years, lauded the act as a much-needed safeguard. 


“We have a catastrophe on our border and we need to send a signal that says we are not going to stand for an assault on our border,” he said. “This is that signal. This is not moving back, this is not an attack on a particular race.”

The proposal passed with a 31-28 vote on Wednesday, with only Republicans in favor. 


Despite garnering a majority vote in both legislative chambers, which are controlled by Republicans, the act is headed straight for a veto. Gov. Katie Hobbs earlier this week released a statement dismissing the bill, its mirrors and a GOP-led ballot referral enacting harsh penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers. The Democrat called for increased funding for border communities and law enforcement officials instead of criminalization.  


“The answer to securing the border is more resources for border patrol and law enforcement in these communities, not job killing, anti-immigrant legislation meant to score cheap political points,” she wrote. 


Latino advocacy organizations criticized the rushed legislative process and denounced its anti-immigrant sentiment


Monica Villalobos, CEO and president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, sounded the alarm over the economic impact the act would have on the state. 


“We are opposed to any legislation that may re-introduce SB1070 consequences, disrupt business operations, hamstring workforce advancement, and tarnish our state brand once again,” she said. “Immigrants in Arizona have a spending power of $26.4 billion and have paid more than $8.7 billion in taxes regardless of legal status. And immigrant entrepreneurs contribute more than $2.2B in business income.”


Alejandra Gomez, the executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, a pro-immigrant group that has been at the forefront of public criticism against the bill, called the procedural move anti-democratic. 


“Silencing the public and constituents has become as fundamental to the Republican Party’s approach to governing as their hateful policy agenda,” she said, in a written statement. “This is not the leadership our state deserves, and further proves that this policy package does not represent Arizona’s people.”


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