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SB1070 repeal bill reopens deep political divisions

A group of SB1070 supporters listens to GOP lawmakers talk during a rally at the Capitol Jan. 23. The rally was in response to Sen. Steve Gallardo's announcement of a measure, SB1218, to repeal former Sen. Russell Pearce's landmark illegal immigration bill. (Photo by Josh Coddington/Arizona Capitol Times)

The chances that Arizona will repeal SB1070, the country’s most prominent state-level anti-illegal immigration measure, are practically none.

The law has many champions in the Legislature, and influential lawmakers have said they will kill efforts to repeal it.

But that hasn’t stopped a group of Democrats from pushing to overturn the law — even while the repeal efforts’ chief architect readily acknowledges that his measure to delete SB1070 might not even get a hearing.

What Sen. Steve Gallardo’s repeal bill reaffirmed today are the deep political divisions at the state Capitol and elsewhere about how to confront illegal immigration, a complex and often emotional issue.

Those divisions were again on display on the Senate lawn, when dueling protesters hailed and criticized the immigration law — all within an earshot of each other.

And as protesters chanted and heckled each other, it showed how raw feelings can be for or against SB1070.

The racial undertones were also hard to ignore.

On one side were Democratic lawmakers and protesters, many of them Hispanic, who stood by Gallardo and questioned the law’s wisdom while hammering on one point — SB1070 gave Arizona a black eye and it’s time repair the state’s reputation by getting rid of it. They also said the law has created fear in the Latino community.

On the other side were the law’s most ardent backers, who touted the law’s achievements and talked about the social and fiscal costs of illegal immigration.

The two press conferences drew huge crowds.

“We can forget the circus over there. We know it’s a side show. We know it’s a political stunt,” declared Sen. Steve Smith, a Republican from Maricopa and a close ally of Russell Pearce, the former Senate President who authored SB1070. “We know there’s no chance of SB1070 going anywhere nor do we want it to. So let them have their little day or 20 minutes in the sunlight here.”

Sen. Gail Griffin, a Republican from Hereford, brought clippings of newspapers that talked about the drug traffic on the southern border.

“This is not just issue a local issue. What comes through my backyard is ending up in your communities,” Griffin said.

Just a few paces away, critics of SB1070 were wrapping up their call for the Legislature to hear SB1218, Gallardo’s repeal measure.

“Arizona will continue to crawl towards economic recovery, but without repeal of SB1070, we will lag behind the country because of our damaged reputation,” said Rep. Catherine Miranda, a Democrat from Phoenix.

She described SB1070 and other similar immigration laws here as “hateful, divisive, go-it-alone.”

Gallardo’s SB1218, which would delete the provisions of SB1070 and other sections of law like the prohibition against picking up day laborers, is cosponsored by about a dozen Democrats.

Gallardo’s proposal hasn’t been assigned to any committee yet.

But Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where immigration-related measures are typically assigned to, said he has a place for it — a “special drawer” for bills that never get out.

Gallardo has no illusions about his bill passing.

But what he really proved today is that he knows exactly which buttons to push to elicit a response from the other side.

“Do I think Ron Gould is going to give it a hearing? Probably not. But let’s force this discussion,” he said, referring to the supposed negative impact SB1070 has wrought. “It took Russell Pearce to get SB1070 passed. It may take us three years to repeal it, but we’re going to start this discussion.”

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