Mass demonstrations against a federal immigration reform bill have caught the attention of state lawmakers but have done little to slow efforts to enact state laws addressing to the matter. A march in Phoenix last week drew an estimated 20,000 people, and in subsequent days, students have taken to the streets in a show of opposition to some proposals.
It appears the demonstrations have served only to galvanize the Legislature even further as lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum look to play to voters and score points in an election year.
Currently, there are dozens of mainly Republican-backed immigration proposals ranging from building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to penalizing employers who hire illegal workers.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives advanced a few of those proposals. The chamber gave preliminary approval to spend $50 million of state tax revenue to buy or lease a radar system to locate people coming across the border illegally. The measure, SB1273, still faces a final vote.
The House also gave preliminary approval to a bill making it unlawful for anyone illegally in this country to trespass on public or private land. SB1157, which already has been approved by the Senate, is designed to create a state law that applies to those not here legally — a law that can be enforced by local police.
While most lawmakers agree that some legislation on immigration reform will come out of the Legislature this year, it is unclear which ones.
“I don’t think the protests are going to change anything around here,” said Sen. Bill Brotherton, DPhoenix, regarding the legislators’ approach to immigration reform.
Brotherton, who unsuccessfully sponsored a bill requiring employers to verify the legal status of their workers, said the protests are not changing voters’ opinions.
He, like many other lawmakers, said the protests affirm stands on each side and ratchet up emotions.
For example, he showed the Tribune a letter from a voter calling for the state to militarize the border and instruct soldiers to shoot to kill illegal border crossers.
Likewise, Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said the demonstrations haven’t changed what he wants to accomplish on the issue this session.
Huppenthal said he will continue to push for laws that punish businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants as well as legislation that would knock non-citizens off the state welfare rolls.
But with so many proposals out there, Huppenthal, like other members of his party, said he wouldn’t back every bill that comes through the Legislature.
Huppenthal said he is very skeptical of measures such as one calling for construction of a wall along the border because its effectiveness is very much unproven.
“I want to know if it works before we pay for it,” he said Tuesday.
Any bill passed by the Legislature will have to go through Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Jeanine L’Ecuyer, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Napolitano, sympathized with the protestors. The governor also opposes HR4437, the U.S. House of Representatives bill that seeks to crack down on illegal immigrants by making it a felony to be in the country illegally and impose tougher penalties on companies hiring illegals.
However, L’Ecuyer said the marches haven’t caused Napolitano to change how she intends to deal with the immigration issue this year, which puts her at odds with many of the Republican proposals.
As the governor has indicated since the beginning of the legislative session in January, she will reject any proposal for a border wall.
For her part, Napolitano has laid out a proposed $100 million immigration reform package as part of her budget proposals.
The money would fund increasing effectiveness of border security by investing in technology and equipment such as radar systems and infrared detection equipment.
But, many Republican lawmakers have criticized parts of the governor’s proposal as not relating to immigration. For example, some have argued her proposal to build a $23.8 million crime lab in the southern part of the state has little to do with curbing illegal immigration.
Summary of bills
HB2577: Requires the state to verify the legal residency status of every state employee through a basic pilot program.
HB2579: Pays for the deployment of the Arizona National Guard to the border.
HB2582: Appropriates $30 million to establish the Border Security Fund and $20 million establish Border Security Council to expand intelligence and border patrols.
HCR2037: Upon voter approval, would mandate the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.
SB1273: Appropriates $20 million to lease a radar system for border surveillance.