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Sweeping immigration bill headed for Senate OK

A bill that would significantly ratchet up local law enforcement’s ability to pursue illegal immigrants moved forward last week amid exultation, protest and deal-making.

The week’s heated debate surrounding Sen. Russell Pearce’s S1070 culminated as the House approved it by a party-line vote April 14. The bill now awaits approval by the Senate.

The bill would expand Arizona’s trespass laws to include illegal immigrants, ban and establish punitive measures for “sanctuary city” policies, make picking up day laborers illegal, establish warrantless arrests and toughen employer sanctions.

Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, has pushed nearly a dozen immigration bills over the past five years similar to S1070, but he’s never been able to have them signed into law. He’s maintained that S1070 will pass, citing negotiations with the Governor’s Office, and that the law will make Arizona’s residents safer.

“This will be the most important law enforcement bill we pass in 10 years,” Pearce said after the bill was debated by the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee April 1.

Despite Pearce’s confidence in the bill’s passage and the gravity he assigns it, the bill has been struck through and amended multiple times, including a last-minute deal with Rep. Russ Jones, a Republican from Yuma, who is still waiting to see if the arrangement he made with Pearce will be honored.

Jones said he had an amendment ready for the bill, but it would have strung out the bill’s passage. So Pearce agreed to the tenets of Rep. Jones’ amendment, but said he would put them into a separate bill.

Jones wants to amend a portion of the bill banning a municipality from establishing “policies or practices” that would restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws. He wants it to read only “policies,” and also is seeking to reduce punitive costs to cities.

This, Jones said, would help narrow the chance that cities would be sued over the bill’s provisions, a concern that has come up at every point in the bill’s debate, and would keep costs down if those suits are brought to bear.

“I know I had the votes to get my amendment, but I was assured by Pearce that he’ll find an appropriate vehicle to amend with those provisions,” Jones said.

Pearce said April 15 the amendment Jones wanted to see will appear on a strike everything amendment to H2162, but said he wasn’t sure when it or S1070 will go to the Senate for a vote.
Jones said he still thinks S1070 will create problems, particularly for small towns trying to comply with it, and because no measures for success have been offered by its supporters.

“How much safer will we be in five years? What will be the benchmarks that we’re going to use? No one has suggested any hard numbers for that,” Jones said. “There’s much in there that’s questionable.”

Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, explained his support of the bill by saying that illegal immigration must be fought on three fronts: Border security must be increased, jobs and benefits must not be available, and internal enforcement must be ratcheted up.

Kavanagh called S1070 a major achievement in internal enforcement and said the obvious benchmark for success will be the number of illegal immigrants apprehended.

“It’s very easy to measure the number of arrests of illegals,” Kavanagh said, “but it’s much harder to measure the deterrent effect this law will have.”

Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill might require additional government spending on public safety and corrections, but that its benefits will outweigh the costs, since it will reduce crime and allow the state to save money by spending less on social services for illegal immigrants.

The opposition to the bill ranged from worry about litigation brought against cities perceived as not complying with the bill to claims that S1070 doesn’t address the root problems that cause illegal immigration.

Rep. Tom Chabin, a Democrat from Flagstaff, urged House members to vote against the bill and instead consider comprehensive immigration reform.

“Instead of facing up to our responsibility and creating a guest-worker program, we have this bill,” Chabin said. “It terrorizes the people we profit from.”

Pearce said even after all the amendments and deal making that he’s still confident the bill will become law.

“It will be passed and it will be signed,” Pearce said April 15.

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