The Arizona legislature is moving ahead with a package of tough new immigration laws, including a provision to make it illegal to be an illegal alien.
The Arizona House last week passed 35-21, on a party-line vote, the Safe Neighborhoods Immigration, Law Enforcement legislation, which makes it a violation of state law to be in the United States illegally. The bill also prohibits cities, counties and local government agencies from preventing the lawful enforcement of U.S. immigration regulations through so-called “sanctuary rules.”
State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), the bill’s author and a staunch immigration enforcement backer, pushed the legislation through the Arizona Senate in February.
The bill underwent minor changes in the state House and now goes back to the Senate where it is expected to pass handily.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, running for re-election in November, has declined to comment on the legislation before the bill arrives onher desk. While Brewer may not sign the bill, she is considered unlikely to veto the reforms and could allow the bill to become law without her signature. The bills major provisions would:
*Make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to complete and carry an alien registration document.
* Allows officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they are in the U.S. legally.
* Bans soft immigration enforcement and sanctuary rules by local governments and allows lawsuits against policies that hinder immigration lawenforcement.
* Prohibits day laborers from impeding street traffic while seeking work.
* Outlaws the transport of illegal immigrants to further their unlawful presence if drivers know the passengers are in the country illegally.
Sen. Pearce said the reforms “take the handcuffs off of law enforcement and put them on the bad guys … with compassion, but without apology.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform’s spokesman Dustin Carnevale called Arizona’s action “a no nonsense, common sense” result of the”inaction of Washington with regard to border security and immigration enforcement.”
A small, but vocal contingent of Hispanics staged a protest Saturday outside the downtown Phoenix Sheraton Hotel where Gov. Brewer assured Latinos and immigrants fair treatment following the passage of the stringent bill.
Brewer, a guest speaker at the annual Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball, stayed mum on whether she will sign or veto the bill when it gets to her desk. Brewer characterizes herself as a strong supporter of pragmatic immigration reform.
“I hear you,” Brewer said at the gathering, “and I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.”
About two dozen mostly Hispanic protesters outside the hotel demanded that Brewer veto the immigration reforms and accused the governor of turning her back on the Latino community. A number of small protests have taken place around the state since the legislation was approved by the state’s House of Representatives.
The protestors, including Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union, say that if Brewer fails to veto the reform bill, Hispanics will vote to remove her from office in November.
Several Republicans who voted in favor of the legislation said that expected constitutional challenges by the ACLU and pro-immigrant groups could tie up the measure in the courts.
Already a hot-button issue in Arizona, emotions over the illegal immigration recently flared up with the murder of a rancher near the border.
Murdered rancher Rob Krentz, in a letter to legislators and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano several year years before he was shot, said that he feared for the lives of his family.
His murder has heightened public awareness of the problems along the border and spurred a group of ranchers to travel to the state Capitol to demand better enforcement and the dispatching of troops to combat illegal border crossers. The ranchers were in Phoenix when the bill passed the House, but were shouted down by pro-immigration protestors outside the Capitol Building.
Last week, it was revealed that the suspect who murdered Krentz escaped across the border through a wildlife refuge region the Border Patrol is prohibited from patrolling.
Illegal border crossers, already breaking the law, feel no compulsion to avoid sensitive environmental preserves and are well aware of the areas where they are less likely to encounter federal law enforcement officers. Although the numbers of illegal entrants dropped by about 20% during the economic recession, any recovery that produces jobs would likely mean aresurgence in those numbers.
The legislation, criticized by pro-immigration and religious groups as a form of racial profiling, is also seen as a punch in the nose to former Democratic Gov. Napolitano, who now heads the Department of Homeland Security
As governor of Arizona, Napolitano once sent Arizona National Guard troops tothe border to assist the U.S. Border Patrol, but then hamstrung those few troops by limiting the unarmed soldiers to clerical and fence mending duties. She vetoed similar legislation as governor and her statements that Homeland Security has strengthened border security since she took control fall on deaf ears for thousands of Arizonans.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, facing a federal investigation of his immigration enforcement policies, has not commented on the lawmakers’ bill.
The “toughest sheriff in America” already enforces policies the new regulations would set for all of Arizona’s law enforcement agencies. A new set of illegal immigrant sweeps is planned by Arpaio over the next few weeks and said he is considering a run for the governor’s office. A veto by Brewer, who became governor when Napolitano left for Washington in 2009, could be the deciding factor in his decision.
The crackdown Arizonans have demanded for years has already begun. Last week law enforcement agents raided the offices of several bus companies run by Mexican operators suspected of involvement in transporting illegal immigrants out of Arizona to other states.
The investigation continues, but a number of arrests have been made and documents showing falsified papers were supplied to immigrants smuggled across the border have been seized. The smuggling of humans across the Mexican border is a lucrative business engaged in by the same people behind the murderous drug cartels that have slaughtered an estimated 18,000, including a number of American citizens, over the past two years.
The Arizona Legislature’s action sends a message to Washington, D.C., that Arizonans, tired of footing the costs and carnage of illegal immigration and a wide-open border, are taking the lead on immigration reform.