Sitting as the lone proponent of Senate Bill 1070, former Arizona lawmaker Russell Pearce today defended his landmark legislation against U.S. senators and a table of fellow witnesses all allied against the illegal immigration bill.
At the nearly two-hour hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, Pearce sparred with U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Richard Durbin over the constitutionality, prudence and necessity of SB1070.
Pearce was not only the sole advocate of the bill to show up – Gov. Jan Brewer denied Schumer’s invitation – but he was the only Republican to speak at the hearing.
“I want to give you the opportunity to state your case, because you’re outnumbered here,” said Schumer, D-NY.
“That’s usually the case,” Pearce replied.
One day before the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the bill, the subcommittee focused little on the constitutional issues, such as preemption that are expected to come before the high court. Instead, the panel focused primarily about the practical matters surrounding SB1070’s implementation.
Schumer queried Pearce on the possibility of racial profiling by police officers, the DREAM Act, and a provision in the law allowing Arizona residents to sue government agencies if they use policies that discourage the enforcement of immigration laws.
Pearce spoke of crimes committed by illegal immigrants, such as the murder of rancher Rob Krentz and the shooting of his own son in the line of duty as police officer, and noted that four of the five leaders of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were violating immigration laws. He said the United States is a nation of laws, and those laws must be enforced.
“This common sense law is clearly within the authority of Arizona,” Pearce said.
Schumer and Durbin, D-IL, took turns grilling Pearce on issues such as racial profiling, which they said would be rampant if the Supreme Court upholds SB1070. Schumer said immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and he announced at the hearing that he would introduce legislation to preempt state-level enforcement sought by laws passed in Arizona and five other states.
“In my view these state laws are both counterproductive and unconstitutional,” Schumer said. “Should the Supreme Court choose to … uphold SB1070, I’ll introduce legislation reiterating the Congress does not intend for the states to enact their own immigration enforcement schemes.”
Pearce was joined by three fellow Arizonans, all opponents of SB1070: Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, a Pearce rival and outspoken critic of SB1070; former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini; and Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.
Gallardo said SB1070 cannot be enforced without racial profiling and has “perpetuated a climate of fear” among Latinos in Arizona. The fiery Phoenix Democrat went as far as to say the intent of the law was to target Latinos.
“I would submit to you that Senate Bill 1070’s true intention … is to make second-class citizens out of Latinos,” Gallardo said.
DeConcini, a Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, said he was embarrassed for his state.
“I apologize for Arizona’s actions toward the Latino community,” he said.
Pearce said he was disappointed in much of the rhetoric surrounding the debate, and questioned why he and other proponents of SB1070 were being labeled as “bad guys” for enforcing the law.
“I’m a little disappointed in folks talking about (being) embarrassed for Arizona,” he said. “Everyone wants to ignore that, the costs, the damage, the crime.”
While there was no shortage of anti-SB1070 rhetoric, most of the hearing involved the back-and-forth between Pearce, Schumer and Durbin.
Schumer questioned why SB1070 gives Arizonans the right to sue the government for failure to enforce immigration laws when they can’t sue for non-enforcement of nearly any other law. He also listed law enforcement guidelines that he said would lead to racial profiling by police.
He focused on several guidelines issued by the Arizona Pearce Officer Standards and Training board, or AZPOST, which outlined what police can use to determine “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. Schumer was especially interested in a provision that said the way a person is dressed can be used to determine suspicion.
“What does an illegal immigrant dress like?” Schumer asked.
Pearce said the provision was taken directly from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines and is not part of the bill. He said dress is just one of several issues that police officers could use in combination to determine “reasonable suspicion,” and that a person’s dress would never be the sole factor.
“It’s a compilation of issues that tend to raise the level of suspicion to the level of probable cause, not any one isolated incident. This is just a list of things that lead you to ask questions. I know questions are dangerous things. People might not actually give you an answer,” Pearce said.
Pearce, a former sheriff’s deputy, also said it is “demeaning” to police officers to assume that will racially profile people under SB1070.
Durbin and Schumer also focused heavily on the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would grant a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrations who were brought to the United States as young children. Durbin described six “dreamers” whom he said would be targeted in Arizona under SB1070, including one who was recently named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year.
In response to one of Durbin’s examples, Pearce said there should be exceptions that allow some people a pathway to citizenship. But he said he opposes “blanket amnesty” that would be created by the DREAM Act. After the hearing, Pearce said questions about the DREAM Act were off-topic because it has nothing to do with SB1070.
Though Schumer was clearly opposed to SB1070, he lauded Pearce for being the only advocate of the bill to attend the hearing and took a swipe at Brewer, who declined his invitation and called the hearing a publicity stunt. Brewer is in Washington, D.C., and will attend Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments on SB1070.
“He’s had his opportunity to make his case. Gov. Brewer wouldn’t come,” Schumer said. “We don’t agree. That’s obvious. But you’ve had the courage and integrity to come here and defend your views.”
Schumer chastised his Republican colleagues for not attending the hearing, and blamed congressional Republicans for the lack of progress on immigration reform issues. Most of the subcommittee’s Democratic members didn’t attend either.
Meanwhile, Pearce blamed politicians for the federal failure to secure the border. He didn’t mention anyone by name, but alluded to U.S. Sen. John McCain.
“Mr. Chairman, we have a national crisis, and yet we continue to ignore it, you know? And there are some that run for office talking about build the darn fence — but never hear it again once they’re elected. I think Americans are a little tired of the drive-by statements by politicians instead of dealing with the issue at hand,” Pearce said in an apparent reference to McCain’s 2010 campaign ad in which he said the country needs to “complete the dang fence.”
One subcommittee member, Republican Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, said the hearing was nothing more than “political theater” meant to sway the Supreme Court’s opinion.
After the hearing, Pearce said Kyl probably had a good reason for not attending, but said he would’ve liked to get a heads-up from the senator beforehand and said he wished Kyl had been there to support Arizona. He said he didn’t know Kyl wouldn’t be there until he arrived at the hearing.
“I certainly would’ve liked to have had a little support, because this isn’t about Russell Pearce. This really isn’t about 1070. It’s about Arizona’s right. Whether you agree with 1070 or not, (it’s about) Arizona’s right to pass laws and enforce those laws and protect its citizens,” Pearce told the Arizona Capitol Times.
He said he agreed with Kyl’s statement that the hearing was only political theater.
“I think we all thought that. Isn’t that a better reason why he should’ve been there, to help offset the silliness this all is?” he said.
Pearce defended Brewer’s decision not to attend, saying it would be inappropriate for the governor “to be called virtually on the carpet by a Senate committee about the state of Arizona.”
He also had some kind words for Schumer, whom he said was very respectful during the hearing. But Pearce criticized his fellow Arizonans DeConcini and Gallardo for their statements to the subcommittee.
“I get a little tired of … the lies and deceit by Steve Gallardo and Dennis DeConcini. He’s embarrassed for Arizona? I’m embarrassed for Dennis DeConcini,” Pearce said.