Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Thursday that would require some immigrants who are in the country illegally and convicted of crimes to serve longer sentences.
The Republican proposal is the first to hit the governor’s desk in a series of immigration proposals introduced this session. The measure is a muted version of a similar bill backed by anti-illegal immigration Republicans that garnered national attention but has since lost traction.
Lawmakers have largely avoided legislating immigration since the 2010 law, SB 1070, sparked national controversy, led to a lengthy court fight and rattled the business community.
Ducey said the bill is about holding everyone to the same standard of justice. “While some have tried to play politics with this law enforcement issue, the reality is this is a sensible public safety measure that ensures we have one justice system that applies to all,” he said in a signing statement on the measure.
Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield park, sponsored House Bill 2451 that requires immigrants who are in the country illegally and are in prison to serve 85 percent of their sentences before they are released to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Most low- and mid-level felons are affected, while people convicted of murder and other serious felonies were never eligible for early release.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy directs federal immigration officials to prioritize the deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally and have committed a felony in most cases.
Mitchell’s proposal would repeal current law that allows federal immigration officials to pick up prisoners who entered in the country illegally after serving half of their sentence.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, says current law unfairly allows immigrants who are in the country illegally to serve less time than other prisoners. “The current law is an absurd law and this creates a terrible injustice in our system,” Kavanagh said during a committee hearing on the bill.
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said the measure could cost the state more money to incarcerate the affected prisoners for longer periods of time. “This is another example of a bill where our zeal to be harsh on immigrants and criminals doesn’t necessarily translate into good public policy,” he said during a Senate vote.
Police arrested five immigrant-rights activists for trespassing after they chained themselves to the front entrance of the executive tower at the Capitol to demand that Ducey veto what protesters call anti-immigrant legislation on Wednesday. Organizing director for Puente Francisca Porchas said about 30 protesters took over the entrance.
“We want to send a very strong message to the governor that we are not going to allow this kind of legislation to become law in this state,” Porchas said.
Earlier in the legislative session, Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsored a bill that would essentially make it impossible for immigrants in the country illegally to receive any leniency in the courts when they commit serious crimes.