A sweeping illegal immigration bill is set for debate on the House floor after receiving approval from a committee along a party-line vote Feb. 24.
The bill, H2632, has three main components: preventing cities and counties from keeping police departments from enforcing federal immigration law, allowing illegal immigrants to be charged with trespassing and curbing the solicitation of day labor.
Sen. Russell Pearce, who is sponsoring an identical measure in the Senate, said it is imperative that Arizona get a grip on the illegal immigration problem that is damaging communities across the state.
“The greatest threat we have to some of our neighborhoods is the illegal alien invasion,” he said.
Those who oppose the bill said it is too broad because it would require all law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of people they come in contact with if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” to suspect the person may be in the country illegally.
It would also make it a misdemeanor for any Arizonan to “conceal, harbor or shield” an illegal immigrant. If someone commits a crime while transporting a person they know is in the country illegally, their car would be impounded and they would face six months in jail and a fine of at least $1,000.
Human traffickers transporting 10 or more illegal immigrants would face felony charges, up to two years in prison and fines for each person transported.
Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, said the requirements will slow down government services and create a culture of fear.
“What that means is costly delays,” Allen said. “It’s requiring everybody in our state to target everyone.”
Mary Alvarado, a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee that the bill reminds her of Jewish persecution during the World War II era.
“It’s Nazi-istic in nature,” she said.
That comment angered some on the panel, including Rep. David Gowan.
“I take offense at the Nazi talk. This is a country of laws,” the Sierra Vista Republican said, noting enforcing existing federal laws was nothing like Nazi Germany.
The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the measure, even though many law enforcement unions and advocacy groups supported it.
John Thomas, a lobbyist for the Association of Chiefs of Police, said rural communities would be harmed disproportionately if residents are allowed to file lawsuits against cities or counties that do not enforce of federal immigration law. Many of those communities are small and do not have the ability to defend the suits, much less pay court costs and hefty fines if they lose.
“They may not have an attorney,” he said. “They barely have (enough) police.”
He suggested changing the bill to allow such suits to only be filed by county attorneys or the attorney general.
Pearce rejected that idea and said it won’t lead to rampant lawsuits. He said a measure with similar language, which was approved by voters in 2004 to restrict public assistance to illegal immigrants, has not resulted in lawsuits.
“Nobody’s sitting around, waiting to sue the government,” he said.
The bill, which was sponsored by Gowan, was approved by a 5-2 vote. One lawmaker, Kearny Democrat Barbara McGuire, voted present. After a check for constitutionality, the bill will be ready for a floor debate.