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Border Bound: Immigration hawks take battle south — push for fence, militia

During the past several years, the Republican-led Legislature has passed some of the county’s toughest laws aimed at driving illegal immigrants from the state and deterring them from entering it.

For the most part, those laws have focused on enforcement within the state’s boundaries.

Now the strategy has shifted, and immigration hawks in the Legislature are taking their fight directly to the border.

This year, two bills that deal with border enforcement are moving along party lines toward passage.

One would fund, train and equip a volunteer militia to fight cross- border criminal activity. The other would give the Joint Border Security Advisory Committee — a small group of select lawmakers, sheriffs and ranchers — power to spend donations from a fund established with a grand vision of building a fence along the U.S.- Mexico border.

From 2007 to 2010, Republicans passed a long list of internal enforcement laws, which include penalties for employing illegal immigrants, restrictions on soliciting day-laborers, a prohibition on cities that try to resist state immigration laws and the requirement that police throughout the state check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally — the most controversial provision of Arizona’s 2010 landmark immigration law.

But following the backlash against SB1070, support for similar measures has fractured among the state’s Republican lawmakers, endangering the easy passage of further “internal enforcement” measures.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, the Snowflake Republican who is sponsoring the militia bill, says that other than perhaps getting tougher on identity theft, there’s no pressing need to pass new laws aimed at internal enforcement. Instead, the fight should be taken to the border.

Plus, she says, despite the injunctions and ongoing litigation, she believes SB1070 will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case in April.

“I don’t think there’s any need to do anything further,” Allen said.

“We’ve already got Supreme Court backing for our employer sanction bill. I believe the Supreme Court’s going to go the exact same way with 1070. The root of the problem is the insecure border.”

Sen. Steve Smith, the Maricopa Republican who is sponsoring the border fence funding bill, lamented the failure of more internal enforcement measures and promised to continue to push for them.

This year, he reintroduced measures that failed amid resistance from his own party, including bills that would have schools and hospitals track and report suspected illegal immigrants they serve. The bills never gained traction and weren’t heard in committee.

Last session, they drew even more telling opposition, when a bloc of moderate Republicans sided with Democrats to reject them during a dramatic Senate floor vote.

Senate President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said he didn’t assign Smith’s bills this session because of the fracturing that played out last year.

“There isn’t the support for them,” Pierce said plainly. “There has to be 16 votes for them to move forward.”

Pierce said he wasn’t sure what the fate of this year’s border security bills will be, but the votes so far show partisan support that could easily carry them to passage.

The border fence appropriation bill has so far split the Legislature along party lines at every vote, and only Sens. Robert Meza, D- Phoenix, and Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, dissented from their respective parties on the militia bill.

Although the votes on these bills so far hint at easy legislative passage, objections remain.

The state agency that oversees law-enforcement training, Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST), says the border militia proposal is dangerous because volunteers would be minimally trained.

The Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, a powerful ranchers’ lobby, opposes it over the fuzzy liability issues it raises.

And all but one of the state’s 14 sheriffs opposes the measure because it would siphon money from an immigration enforcement task force the sheriffs rely on. The lone supporter is Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Those criticisms have been echoed by Democrats, who say giving direct spending power over the border fence fund to an advisory committee stacked with immigration hawks will never actually lead to the construction of a border fence along Arizona’s southern border.

The arguments are partly based on the fact that the fund has only received about $300,000, or enough money to build less than a half- mile of fencing.

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2007 estimate, building the fence along the 376 miles of Arizona-Mexico border could cost around $500 million. And in 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s figures would put that cost at more than $1 billion.

Democratic leaders at the state Capitol explain the broader shift in focus with a more cynical perspective. Recently, House Democrats held a press conference focused on what they describe as the “last gasp of a super majority,” highlighting Allen’s militia bill in particular, as an example.

Both Allen and Smith’s bills are ineffective legislation and Republicans know it, the Democratic leaders said. The border security bills are cutting-room-floor ideas, they say, being wantonly rushed by Republicans who believe they will lose seats in the Legislature this November, which would make these sorts of bills more difficult to pass.

And at least one Republican admits that’s the case, too.

Rep. Jack Harper, the Peoria Republican who sponsored a state militia bill last year, said he thinks the possibility of dwindling Republican control is at least partially responsible for the current border security push.

“I do not believe Republicans are going to get another chance at this issue,” Harper said. “It has to be done with legislation this term.”

If coming votes on these bills reflect the same party-line support they’ve received so far, they’ll only need the governor’s go-ahead to become law.

One comment

  1. Betty on the border

    We already have more law enforcement agencies down here on the Arizona Mexico border per capita then anywhere in the State. We do not need a fence. It will destroy our local economy. You Phoenix folks forget that all our grocery stores and box stores that we buy from built those stores on stats that showed 60-70% of their shoppers where coming from Mexico. I used to go into Mexico, now I have to have a ‘passport’ just to go across the line, so I don’t go now. If these unenlightened people build a fence, all our stores will close. The only Safeway in Douglas already did close. All ours stores will close and build over across the border. Walmart has been caught giving ‘bribes’ to the Mexican government to build new stores in Mexico….then I will have to get a passport, just to shop for toilet paper. Stop this madness and stop building fences along the border, now.

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