The Senate today resoundingly rejected five controversial immigration bills, including a proposal that supporters say is aimed at getting the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue of American citizenship.
Support for the measures was iffy to begin with, but the margins of defeat were surprising.
In four of the five bills, nearly half of the majority Republicans joined with Democrats in voting no.
In opposing the bills, majority members have drawn a line delineating how far they want Arizona to go in enacting additional state-level immigration measures. They have also reiterated what they said they wanted the Capitol to focus on: creating jobs, aiding a wobbly economy, and fixing a budget hole.
The bills’ failure also represented a stinging setback for Senate President Russell Pearce, the architect of many of the state’s immigration laws and an ardent advocate for each of these five bills.
Pearce had carefully shepherded the measures to ensure they received a vote by the entire body. When the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to muster enough support to pass the birthright legislation, for example, Pearce reassigned them to the Appropriations Committee, where they passed.
Given the miserable level of support they received, it is unlikely – though still possible – that the bills would be revived.
But the rejection might have only opened up another chapter in this ever-complex and highly emotional issue.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, author of the birthright bills, said their next step will be to go to the voters, gather the signatures, and draft the immigration bills as initiatives.
Gould also had some harsh words for colleagues who voted against the bills:
“It’s rather pitiful when rhetoric doesn’t meet political reality. You got folks here that ran on an illegal immigration ticket — that they were going to be tough on illegal immigration,” he said. “(But their) rhetoric doesn’t match the reality, and they come down here and vote the opposite way.”
But Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, one of those who voted against the immigration bills, said one problem with the measures is they don’t accomplish what their supporters said they would.
“More importantly, I think the reason these bills failed is each one of them took away a civil liberty of someone who is here legally,” Crandall said after the voting was complete.
Two of the bills are the so-called birthright bills, SB1308 and SB1309. Their ultimate aim is to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue of American citizenship, though critics question whether the justices actually would answer that exact issue and not dismiss the legislation on some other grounds.
A third is Pearce’s omnibus bill, SB1611. Among other things, it would deny illegal immigrants access to such public benefits as operating or titling vehicles, enrolling in community colleges and receiving medical aid.
Another bill, SB1405, would require hospitals to verify a person’s legal status at some point during giving medical care. The bill doesn’t deny illegal immigrants medical care, but it mandates hospitals to report to law enforcement if a patient’s citizenship or legal status cannot be verified.
The fifth bill that died, SB1407, would require the Arizona Department of Education to collect data about students who cannot prove their lawful presence in the United States. The bill also requires the department to research the “adverse impact” of these students’ enrollment as well as provide for an estimate of the cost of educating them.
Under the legislation, the state superintendent of public instruction may withhold a school district’s state support if it is not complying with the bill’s requirements of this section.
The criticisms and counter-arguments hew closely along familiar lines.
On one side are those who believe that existing conditions, such as conferring automatic citizenship to children of the undocumented, have become a powerful incentive to break the country’s laws and come here illegally.
They argue that state-level action is necessary because the federal government has miserably failed to secure the country’s borders and to solve illegal immigration. They said the costs to citizens, financially and socially, are high.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, for example, argued the bills are a reasonable attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
On the other side are those who believe that the proposed legislation cross the line, that they create what is essentially a caste society, and that the proper place for immigration reform is at the federal level.
During the debate, Senate Minority Leader David Schapira rhetorically asked what the cost is of passing a measure that says Arizona won’t educate its kids.
Then there are those who support a strict enforcement approach to confronting illegal immigration but who feel that that state has done its fair share, that the debate is distracting the Legislature from pressing issues, and that the state is now sagging with “immigration fatigue.”
It was this group, made up exclusively of Republicans, that eventually decided the fate of the immigration measures.