Arizona’s Suite of New Anti-Immigrant Bills Moves to Senate

Immigrant rights activists in their state say the news is proof that conservatives are growing desperate.

By Julianne Hing Feb 23, 2011

Last night the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the way for a host of bills targeting undocumented immigrants to advance to the Senate floor. SB 1611, Senate President Russell Pearce’s latest effort to punish the state’s immigrant community with harsh sanctions and restrictions, was one of them.

SB 1611 will head to the Senate floor after clearing a narrow 7-6 vote in which two of the committee’s nine Republicans voted against the bill, the East Valley Tribune reported. SB 1611 seeks to ban undocumented immigrant kids from K-12 education if their parents cannot produce a U.S. birth certificate or naturalization documents. The bill would also force Arizona businesses to use E-Verify, the federal immigration database. Those who don’t could have their business license revoked. The bill would also forbid undocumented students from attending community college and state universities, even if they paid out-of-state tuition, and cut undocumented immigrants off from emergency medical care. People who want to file for a marriage license would need to show their immigration papers. And people would not be able to buy or operate vehicles without producing proof of legal residence. If they’re caught driving without proper documentation they could face a month of jail time.

In a marathon nine-hour meeting, state senators weighed the pros and cons of SB 1611. Sen. Rich Crandall, who ultimately voted against it, said he was concerned about how the bill would affect tourism.

"I don’t want people flying in for the big golf tournament or the auto auction and have to bring their birth certificate with them,” Crandall said, the East Valley Tribune reported.

Other opposition focused on how the bills could hurt the state’s already ailing economy.

"We recognize the concern that individuals have in Arizona about the undocumented-worker problem and the costs to the state government," said Democratic state Sen. Paula Aboud, The Arizona Republic reported. "But if jobs are our focus, if the economy and turning our economy around in Arizona is what’s critical, these immigration bills don’t do it. They hurt our image."

But Pearce has remained firm in his support for harsher laws.

"If we’re going to stop this invasion — and it is an invasion — you’re going to have to stop rewarding people for breaking those laws,” Pearce said during the nine-hour meeting yesterday, the paper reported. "I make no apology for demanding the taxpayers be protected.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee also cleared the way for SB 1308 and SB 1309, the pair of bills that would create a special Arizona state citizenship and end birthright citizenship, to move to the Senate floor. In doing so, Arizona became the first state legislative committee to approve legislation to roll back constitutional guarantees of birthright citizenship to children born in the country, the Arizona Republic reported. The bills had been held back in committee several times over the last few weeks and reassigned in tricky legislative shuffling. Sen. Ron Gould conceded at one of those early hearings in February that he didn’t have the votes necessary to move the bill out of committee. The committee also approved SB 1405, which forces hospital workers to ask for proof of immigration status before providing patients with non-emergency medical care.

Monday’s announcement of Pearce’s omnibus immigration bill seemed to materialize out of nowhere. "It was obvious a lot of them hadn’t been able to read it before," said Gabriel Cruz, an immigrant rights activist who sat in on the committee hearings last night. "Some of [the senators] said it was a first reading that they had read it."

During the hearing Pearce admitted that he had just come up with the idea over the weekend, the East Valley Tribune reported.

Immigrant rights activists say the maneuver is proof of Pearce’s desperation. "It is clear he does not have the votes to do what he wanted the way he wanted," said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who heads the immigrant rights group Somos America. "Pearce has clearly staked his reputation on the 14th amendment bills, but now he’s found himself on the defensive."

Gutierrez said that the gigantic omnibus bill included Pearce’s Republican colleagues’ various immigration-related bills, and he suspected that the omnibus bill squeaked by on a pact that enough senators will want to support their own bills, so they will support the omnibus bill, as well as SB 1308 and 1309. 

"It’s proof that we’re being effective," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said he expects plenty more back-door maneuvers in the coming weeks as Pearce tries to keep his party in line to make sure that SB 1308 and SB 1309 pass once they make it to the Senate floor.

Still, the sheer number of anti-immigrant bills is staggering. Last night the committee also considered bills to end the state’s Medicaid program and trim its welfare program. The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill that would designate the Colt Revolver as Arizona’s official state firearm.

"They had all these bills, and then all of sudden it was midnight and they wanted to go to a bill to have a state firearm for the state," said Cruz.

"That’s when I felt, I wouldn’t say offended, but that they were making a mockery of what they were doing."

Many of the provisions in these bills are currently unconstitutional, say immigrant and civil rights groups. But Pearce and his colleagues have been direct about their intent to trigger a Supreme Court review of cases like 1982’s Plyer v. Doe, which established children’s rights to public education regardless of their immigration status, and the landmark 1898 case U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, when the Supreme Court ruled that children born in the U.S. are automatically U.S. citizens, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.

Along the way to the Supreme Court, these laws also help intimidate and terrorize immigrant communities, immigrant rights activists argue.

"Politicians are trying to scare a lot of people into leaving Arizona," said Cruz, who predicted that the Republican-controlled Senate would likely pass SB 1611, given the state’s legislative history. "I just don’t comprehend the hatred or the fear or the greed that some of these politicians have."

Today the House Appropriations Committee will vote on HB 2070, which would allow Gov. Jan Brewer to create an armed force called the Arizona State Guard for any reason she deemed necessary.