A sweeping bill that targets illegal immigrants in public housing, public benefits and the workplace drew vocal opposition Tuesday from Democrats who say its sponsor is plotting his political strategy and not focused on Republicans’ stated top priority, the economy.
“We should be thinking about turning around Arizona’s economy, not running for higher office,” said Sen. Richard Miranda of Tolleson, taking a swipe at what many believe is Republican Senate President Russell Pearce’s interest when he leaves the Legislature. “Is this about fighting the drug cartels at the border or is it about blaming a group for all the state’s problems?”
The Senate Appropriations Committee was considering the 29-page bill Tuesday, a day after it was introduced by Pearce, who authored last year’s controversial SB 1070. That law touched off a nationwide debate on whether states can enforce federal immigration laws.
Democrats don’t have the votes to block the measure, but the topic brought out supporters on both sides and security at the Senate was heightened, with about a dozen uniformed police officers deployed in and around the building.
Two other bills set for hearings Tuesday would challenge automatic U.S. citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants and require hospitals to confirm whether nonemergency patients are in the country legally.
Before the Appropriations Committee meeting, some of the officers outside the building stood between small groups of people who exchanged catcalls and jeers.
Police said four people were arrested and cited for disorderly conduct after disrupting a Democratic senator’s news conference about her bill stiffening penalties for a human smuggling crime. Inside, officers cleared a packed hallway, directing people to a large room to watch a video feed of the hearing.
Pearce’s bill toughens requirements that employers check work eligibility of new hires, allowing for their business licenses to be suspended it they don’t use the federal E-Verify system. Workers caught using a false identity to get a job would face mandatory six-month jail sentences.
It also requires schools to collect information on the legal status of students and report them to law enforcement if their parents don’t provide the necessary documents or the documents appear false.
The bill also makes it illegal for an illegal immigrant to drive in the state, providing for a 30-day minimum jail sentence and the seizure of their vehicles if they are convicted.
In housing, it requires public agencies to verify the immigration status of renters and to evict everyone living in a unit if one was found to be an illegal immigrant. For health care, the bill changes some of the document requirements for the state’s Medicaid program.
The medical industry opposes the hospital bill, arguing that immigrants with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis would avoid going to hospitals or clinic, putting themselves and the public at a grave health risk.
Sponsors of the citizenship bill hope it will prompt a court interpretation on an element of the 14th Amendment which guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are “subject to the jurisdiction” of this country. Supporters of the bill the amendment doesn’t apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don’t owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
Similar proposals have been introduced by lawmakers in Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
An accompanying proposal is an interstate compact that defines who is a U.S. citizen and asks states to issue separate birth certificates for those who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Such a compact would have to be approved by Congress, but they do not require the president’s signature.
Another Senate committee failed to advance the measure two weeks ago, and Pearce pulled the bill for a hearing in the Appropriations Committee, where it is more likely to win passage.