Fatigue with the illegal immigration issue could stand in the way of new legislation being considered by Arizona lawmakers, including a sweeping bill championed by the same senator whose law last year prompted nationwide protests.
The many provisions of Senate President Russell Pearce’s latest bill target education and other public services as well as activities ranging from hiring to driving.
Pearce’s late-emerging bill and other proposals sponsored by fellow Republicans cleared a Senate committee dominated by conservatives late Tuesday. But two committee Republicans voted against Pearce’s bill, and a GOP senator who’s not on the committee said Wednesday that full Senate votes on the measures will be close.
Minority Democrats regularly vote against most Republican hard-liners’ illegal immigration bills, “and there are other Republicans besides me that have concerns with them,” said Sen. John McComish of Phoenix. “We need a timeout on immigration bills.”
Pearce drafted his bill Friday and introduced it Monday, past the normal deadline.
“This was a very quick fix (at the) last minute to make sure that we did not ignore the voters of this state,” he said, referring to provisions that would tighten illegal immigration laws approved by voters in the last decade.
However, Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said, “This bill is miles beyond SB1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and non-citizens alike.”
Opponents also said fallout would damage the state’s economy just as businesses are poised to regain lost ground. Passage of SB1070 last year touched off calls for boycotts and a national debate on whether states can enforce federal immigration laws. Key portions of the law have been put on hold by a court pending outcome of legal challenges.
The Senate Appropriations Committee that narrowly endorsed Pearce’s latest bill on a 7-6 vote also approved others targeting automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants and requiring hospitals to report patients who cannot show they’re in the country legally.
The measures now face a legal review and discussions by party caucuses before being considered by the full Senate. Passage would send them to the House.
Two committee Republicans joined four Democrats in voting against Pearce’s bill.
It would make it a state crime with a 30-day minimum jail sentence to drive a vehicle while in the country illegally, and Republican Rick Crandall of Mesa said a provision allowing forfeiture of vehicles driven by illegal immigrants could prompt car rental companies to demand proof of legal status from tourists and other visitors.
“It’s the type of thing that completely undoes” a recently unveiled campaign to promote the state’s tourism industry, Crandall said.
The measure allows for business licenses to be suspended if an employer doesn’t use the federal E-Verify system to check the work eligibility of new hires. 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.
Public universities and community colleges would be barred from admitting students who cannot demonstrate legal status.
In housing, the bill requires public agencies to verify the immigration status of renters and to evict everyone living in a unit if one is found to be an illegal immigrant. For health care, the bill changes some of the document requirements for the state’s Medicaid program.
The bill turns public officials into immigration officers and “launches an unprecedented attack on minorities and people of color,” said Jaime Farrant of the Border Action Network, an advisory group.
But the Appropriations Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Andy Biggs, said the bill was a response “to economic and social costs that we face with the onslaught of illegal aliens in our state.”
“We need to have the moral courage to deal with this issue when there is a vacuum at the federal level,” he said.
Democrats said Republicans should be focused on the state’s ailing economy, not taking steps that would hurt it.
“This is totally the wrong time for the leader of our Senate to throw our state into another state of chaos,” said Democratic Sen. Paula Aboud of Tucson.
Sponsors of the automatic citizenship bill hope it will prompt a court interpretation on an element of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the country and who are “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S.
Bill proponents said the amendment shouldn’t apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don’t owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
The committee also approved an accompanying proposal that would establish an interstate compact that defines who is a U.S. citizen and asks states to issue separate birth certificates for those who are citizens and those who are designated as not citizens.
Similar proposals defining who would get automatic citizenship have been introduced in Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Backers expect another dozen states will take up the issue this year.
The other bill originally barred nonemergency treatment without proof of legal status but was amended to only require hospitals to report patients who lack valid health insurance and who cannot show they’re in the country legally.
Supporters said it still would help reduce health care costs and burdens on taxpayers. Critics said it could deter some people from seeking needed care.