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Arizona’s ‘False Leadership’ on Immigration Policy

New America Media, Q&A with Jennifer Allen, Elena Shore Posted: Jun 17, 2009

Editor's Note: After being held up in a budget stalemate, the Arizona legislature is now rushing to pass a number of unprecedented anti-immigration bills, including one bill that would make it a felony to be undocumented. Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, says that the economic and political climate in the state may make it hard to block some of these bills. But, she says, the people of Arizona -- outraged over what their legislature is doing -- are finally taking a stand. She spoke with NAM editor Elena Shore.

The Arizona legislature is considering some very harsh immigration-related bills. What is their status?
Jennifer AllenJennifer Allen, executive director of
Border Action Network

We have about 20 bills on our watch list. My guess is that you have probably heard about SB 1175, which is Illegal Aliens Enforcement and Trespassing, SB 1280, Concealing, Harboring or Shielding Aliens, and HB 2331, Federal Immigration Law Enforcement.

SB 1175 just passed the Senate Monday. It’s the same bill that has been introduced by Sen. Russell Pearce now for several years. The majority of the bills that are on our watch list were all introduced by Russell Pearce. And he is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Especially in these economic times, where Arizona is in one of our worst budget deficits ever and the legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer are at a stalemate and have not yet passed a budget for the fiscal year, Russell Pearce wields a lot of power.

Why is the relationship between the legislature and the governor so strained?

This is a Republican governor appointed after our previous governor, Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, was promoted up to Homeland Security Secretary. Our expectation when Gov. Brewer was put in was that she would follow the lead of the legislature. However, given the extent of our economic crisis, she looked at the numbers and said, ‘We cannot continue to cut taxes.’ She’s proposed a one percent increase in taxes. That has our Arizona legislature livid. So there’s this battle going on where they’re trying to push her around. There’s this whole drama going on and crisis in the state of Arizona where we don’t have a budget and we’re looking at a state shutdown as of Jan. 30. Nonetheless, Senator Pearce is charging ahead with all these anti-immigrant bills that will only be a detriment to the state of Arizona.

What would the Illegal Aliens Enforcement and Trespassing bill entail?

It has two components to it. The first part is that the bill would prohibit any city, country or town of the state of Arizona to adopt any kind of policy that would limit the enforcement of federal immigration laws to the full extent permitted by federal law.

In the legislature, they’ve been talking about this as trying to attack these so-called sanctuary cities in the state of Arizona, of which there are none. At all. We have a couple of police departments around the state, Tucson, Phoenix, Chandler, that have police policies that provide protections to victims and witnesses of crimes, that if they are undocumented, immigration will not be called.

The other piece of the bill – I think it would be the first one in the country – would say that anyone who is on public or private land in the state of Arizona could be charged with a felony, with criminal trespass, if they cannot prove that they are in the country legally.

Essentially it would become this statewide racial profiling law, where law enforcement sees somebody who, completely based on their appearance, they think may not be in the country legally, they can go up and ask them to prove their lawful presence in the country. And if they can’t prove it, the state can then charge them with criminal trespass.

What are the arguments behind this bill?

There are two really disturbing and shameful statements. One is that Russell Pearce thinks that the Border Patrol is simply too effective. They pick people up, and then they’re so promptly deported that they never serve any time in the state of Arizona. So he wants people to be picked up and sent off to Joe Arpaio’s tent cities or other county or city jails, and then handed over to immigration. And last year, the Phoenix Police Officers’ Association had said that they liked this bill because it would give them 'preventative police powers.'

SB 1175, as grossly unconstitutional as it seems -– I mean it kind of destroys the notion of probable cause for stopping and questioning people -- this bill is moving quickly through the legislature. It was heard in Committee on the 10th, and by the 15th it passed the entire Senate and was passed over to the House.

What’s the reason for it passing so quickly?

Our legislature has been entirely focused on trying to put together a budget that both houses could pass, and that happened on June 11. So once they got the budget passed through the legislature they opened up the floodgates for all these other bills. Up until June 11, I think there were only about four bills that had actually been passed by the legislature. Normally by now, we would have 1,000 bills passed.

Legislature is supposed to conclude on the 30th. So committees have doubled their schedule so instead of meeting once or twice, they are meeting three and four times.

And the anti-immigrant bills are among the top bills that they are looking at right now?

Yes. Shockingly. Given that all of the health and human service programs have been cut by a third in this state, and we are looking at massive social problems because of the financial crisis. But in spite of all of that, they are pushing forward with anti-immigrant bills.

Is this different from what’s happened in the rest of the country? We’ve seen 287g where local police cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But this seems to be local police creating their own law.

Yes. And we have about eight 287g agreements in the state of Arizona. And one in particular, in Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has actually done something where his sheriff’s deputies have been cross-trained as ICE agents. But he’s also cross-trained ICE agents to be able to enforce local laws. As far as I’m aware, I think that’s the only example of that happening in the country.

So, at all sorts of levels – at the state legislature, it’s Russell Pearce who supports Sheriff Arpaio who then also supports County Attorney Andrew Thomas. We then have the legislative branch, the administrative branch of law enforcement, and then the county attorney. One makes the laws, one applies the laws, and the other interprets the laws – all looking for as many possible ways to be able to isolate, marginalize and target immigrant families in the state of Arizona.

What are the other bills being debated?

House Bill 2331 is essentially the same language that is in SB 1175 that says that municipalities and counties are prohibited from enacting ordinances that in any way limit or prohibit the law enforcement of federal immigration laws. Pearce has a bill out right now where school districts need to report the number of undocumented children they have in the school system. He’s got a bill about excluding people who use a taxpayer identification number to apply for a loan. There’s one for public housing, saying you’ve got to prove lawful presence to reside in public housing.

Border Action Network and other groups have been successful at knocking a lot of these down or blocking a lot of them.

Last year, not a single anti-immigrant bill passed into law. We got a number of them defeated in the legislature. There were two that were sent to the governor’s office and we got her to veto them.

What are the prospects this year?

This year, the numbers are simply not in our favor. Last year we had Gov. Napolitano who we had a good working relationship with. This legislature and this governor are completely shut to talking with us, and not only us, but they’re shut down to talking to anybody. The governor is not talking to Democrats. The Republicans in the legislature are not talking to the governor. The Democrats in legislature don’t talk to one another.

It will be very, very difficult to prevent some of these bills from making it to the governor’s desk. And it will be difficult for her not to sign them.

What strategies is Border Action Network using to block these bills?

We have been encouraging our supporters and our members to send emails to their legislators, and we’ve been sending out e-alerts every time a bill comes to committee. Last year, we were getting 200 people responding. The last couple of major votes on the floor, we had more than 2,000 emails sent to the legislature. People are outraged in the state of Arizona and feel like we have been so grossly misrepresented, and our state has been so negatively tainted by really false leadership. Russell Pearce does not represent people here. Yet his legislation has dominated the image of the state.

A few years ago, the debates over immigration reform seemed to end up strengthening the anti-immigration movement. Could that be true today?

Immigration reform advocates across the country are better organized, much more strategic and represent broader constituencies now than ever before. We are better prepared and better organized to push for comprehensive immigration reform in the next 12 months. Faith communities, immigrant communities, service providers, business communities, labor unions have all been coming together under one banner for immigration reform and that is an enormous step forward. It puts the ball in the court of the president to demonstrate that his commitment to immigration reform is more than words.

Related Articles:

Arizona Legislators Want to Jail Undocumented

As Obama Promises Immigration Reform, State Backlash Continues

Department of Justice to Investigate Sheriff Arpaio

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