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Proposal to give Sheriff Babeu money for immigration enforcement advances

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (File Photo)

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (File Photo)

A proposal to give Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu money for immigration-related enforcement survived a rigorous debate in the Senate on April 14.

But as senators’ remarks showed, considerable hurdles remain for the proposal.

Many lawmakers are sympathetic to the sheriff, but he is asking for money at a time when the state is broke.

Actually, the sheriff is getting only a third — about $1.7 million instead of $5 million — under the version of the measure the Senate preliminarily approved. The bill, HB2178, still needs a formal vote by the Senate.

Also, the money will come from funds that go to county prosecutors and public defenders, which they use to improve processing of criminal cases.

And for some legislators, that’s problematic.

“I am amazed that they don’t see the irony here,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. “It makes no sense to take money from prosecutors to give it to police, because police can’t do their job without prosecutors and vice versa.”

Law enforcers can arrest as many people but without adequate funding for prosecutors, those people won’t be convicted, Sinema said.

Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce said Pinal County’s sheriff certainly deserves financial help as his office grapples with issues related to border security, but so do other counties.

“(And on) this particular thing you’re taking money from my county,” Pierce said as he questioned why additional money for Pinal is any more important than doing the same for Yavapai or others counties.

“So convince me that it’s the right thing to do to take money out of my county, money out of Yuma County, money out of Greenlee County, money of Gila County and put it down there with Sheriff Babeu,” Pierce said.

In response, Sen. Steve Smith, who comes from Pinal County, said his county faces big border-related problems but it doesn’t get the financial aid that border counties do.

Pinal doesn’t border with Mexico, but because of where it’s situated, it gets 80 percent of the illegal immigration traffic, Smith said.

“Geographically, that’s just the way it is,” Smith said, adding if other areas face the same problem, he’d be willing to provide them with the same funding.

Senate President Russell Pearce, who offered the amendment giving Pinal County about $1.7 million, said it’s a priority to try and stop the tide of illegal immigration.

“It is a route that feeds the rest of the state and the nation, so you have to deal with it,” Pearce said. “Everybody here talks about border security, and many of them don’t mean it.”

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