Department of Public Safety officers escorted several people out of a Senate hearing room Feb. 13 during a heated debate over legislation that would bar cities from embracing “sanctuary” policies.
Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of Living United for Change in Arizona, was speaking on the referendum when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, cut off his testimony.
Farnsworth warned Polanco the first time he referred to bill language as “racist.” The second time Polanco used that word, Farnsworth banged his gavel, told Polanco he was done and accused him of being vitriolic.
Polanco was just the second speaker of the morning and once his testimony abruptly ended Farnsworth recessed the committee. He also recessed a second time and both times the committee recessed, opponents of the bill chanted “Whose house? Our house! Kill the bill!”
Polanco, who lobbies for the progressive firm Creosote Partners, was then asked to leave separately from others who were escorted out by Department of Public Safety officers.
He said he was testifying facts about the bill “including that it is racist” and Farnsworth tried to silence him a couple of times before eventually doing so.
“It got tense [and] they ended up calling police officers into the room and saying that if we didn’t leave, we were trespassing,” Polanco said. “I think it was very obvious that he was just throwing out people of color from the committee, which just underscores the fact that SCR1007 is racist, like SB1070. And that we must put a stop to it.”
SB1070 was a 2010 wide-ranging measure aimed at giving the state more power to deal with the issue of illegal immigration. Federal courts have struck down most of the law’s provisions.
Farnsworth pointed out several audience members to DPS officers as people who had disrupted the meeting.
“I’m going to ask those who have disrupted this meeting to leave the room,” Farnsworth said. “You don’t have to leave the building, but you do have to leave the room. If not, you will be trespassing and you will be removed.”
Protesters left individually with officers watching, and a few stopped in the doorway to yell back “This bill is racist” or “Farnsworth is a racist. Let it be known” as they exited.
The legislation is Sen. Sylvia Allen’s SCR1007, which would ask voters to ban so-called sanctuary cities. Allen amended the language to mirror an effort from Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge that would prevent the state or any local jurisdiction from adopting a policy that would restrict local law enforcement from “sharing, accepting, preserving, coordinating or collaborating with any … government entity in order to determine the immigration status of any individual unless it is determined that the action may impede a law enforcement investigation.”
That language closely resembles language in SB 1070, which states that no official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.
Allen said the measure is designed to stop “the criminal element that is flooding into our country,” something she said is encouraged by communities declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” or directing police not to cooperate with immigration officials.
“What happens when we set up these sanctuary counties and cities is that we are protecting these criminal elements that are coming into our country,” she said. “When we have these sanctuary cities and counties set up it provides cover for these criminal elements.”
Polanco said he did not call Farnsworth “or anyone else” racist, just the legislation.
“I said ‘you’re silencing my testimony, I have two minutes to speak’ – or something to that effect – but I was being silenced for the contents of my testimony. Despite the fact that I have the right to speak,” he said.
Alejandra Gomez, the co-executive director of LUCHA, was also asked to leave the room. She was supposed to speak after Polanco, and still attempted to do so after Farnsworth cut Polanco off. Gomez said she was there to speak on how “egregious” SCR1007 is.
“This bill is an extension of SB 1070. But actually it makes enforcement much more strict,” she said.
Gomez said the ballot referral, if passed by both the chambers, would allow eight year olds to be taken from the classroom into custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and cancer patients taken from the hospital.
“There are no words for what happened today. For the disruption of democracy, for the disruption of allowing people to share testimonies of the real negative, painful impacts of SB 1070 copycat laws,” Gomez said.
Farnsworth said removing audience members was justified.
“There are rules in this committee,” Farnsworth said. “There’s decorum that’s expected. I try to be fair. I try to give everybody the same amount of time. If you want to speak, you’ll have an opportunity to speak. What you won’t be able to do is disrupt this committee, or you will be removed.”
The resolution eventually passed through the committee along party lines on its way to the full Senate.
Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify what Sen. Sylvia Allen’s referral would ask voters to approve.