Anti-Illegal-Migrant Bills Advance

Anti-illegal-migrant bills advance
Pearce taking lead in new round of reforms

By Elisabeth Arriero
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), June 28, 2009

Two years after engineering the nation's toughest employer-sanctions law, state Sen. Russell Pearce has taken the lead in a new round of anti-immigration reforms that could have long-lasting effects on Arizona.

One would require school districts to collect data on any student who can't prove legal residency. Another would require state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws, thus making sanctuary laws illegal.

The fate of those and other anti-immigration bills will be determined by the end of Tuesday, when the Legislature is scheduled to end its 2009 session.

Pearce, R-Mesa, has said his latest measures are essential to cutting down on murders, kidnappings and other crimes committed by people in the country illegally. Too often, he believes, such people have evaded federal laws.

Opponents of the measures worry that anti-immigration bills are sailing through the Legislature without proper scrutiny. Some authorities worry that the bills will put undue stress on local police agencies by requiring that they carry out federal law.

Despite such concerns, several of Pearce's key immigration bills as well as lesser ones sponsored by other legislators have progressed steadily through the Senate and House and appear likely to pass by the time the session ends Tuesday night.

Groundbreaking law

Pearce has become the face of anti-illegal-immigration legislation in Arizona. His groundbreaking 2007 law targeted the state's market for illegal labor with what then-Gov. Janet Napolitano called 'the most aggressive action in the country.' The law is designed to penalize businesses that knowingly hire workers in the country illegally.

Unlike that measure, which remained in the spotlight for months, Pearce's current bills have remained in the shadows of the state budget crisis.

Pearce declined to comment for this article. But in an op-ed piece published Thursday in The Arizona Republic, he set forth what he considers to be serious flaws in the enforcement of immigration law in Arizona. Too often, he suggested, violators of U.S. immigration law have been released rather than held accountable for their actions. This has led to crimes that could be prevented: murders, stabbings, shootings and sex offenses.

House Bill 2280 (originally Senate Bill 1175) received preliminary approval from the Senate on Friday. It requires state, county and city officials to comply fully with the enforcement of federal immigration law. Under the measure, Arizona citizens can file court actions against any official who supports a policy that limits immigration enforcement. Additionally, people in the country illegally can be convicted of the crime of trespassing.

SB 1173 would require public-housing authorities to get proof of lawful residence in the country from applicants.

'We took a two-year hiatus in trying to create state crimes in illegal immigration,' said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City. 'But we no longer have any faith in the national government except to create amnesty programs.'

Federal responsibilities

El Mirage Police Chief Michael Frazier said it is not as simple for local agents to enforce federal laws as Pearce's bill suggests.

Only an official from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or a local agent who has received immigration-enforcement training, known as '287 g training,' can verify a person's legal status, he said.

For a small agency like the El Mirage Police Department, sending an officer to the five-week training session can be costly.

Frazier also said enforcement of immigration laws could create racial profiling.

'If I'm stopping someone because my reasonable suspicion is they're in the country illegally, what am I basing that on?' he said. 'It's going to be skin color, how they look, and ethnicity.'

Another problem is that resources would be diverted away from local crimes, said Connie Anderson of the Valley Interfaith Project. Anderson said that officers would spend time pursuing undocumented immigrants – the majority of whom do not commit violent crimes, she says – instead of those residents who had actually committed a crime such as murder or robbery.

A 2007 study based on U.S. Census data by the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center found that legal and illegal immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to be incarcerated for crimes.

Collecting student data

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, worries many of the immigration bills will pass without consideration of how people like Frazier will be affected.

'They're pushing all kinds of things because they know they can,' she said of the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Lopez said she is particularly concerned about Senate Bill 1172, which would require school districts to collect data on students who cannot prove lawful residence in the country. Lopez suspects the bill, if passed, would be considered a violation of federal law. A 1982 United States Supreme Court case, Plyler vs. Doe, prohibits schools from refusing enrollment to students who can't prove residency.

Looking ahead

Political observers, including state lawmakers and lobbyists, interviewed by The Republic said they expected the majority of the immigration bills to pass this session. The three big reasons are the economy, the government's current makeup and the budget crisis.

Mark Egan, an immigration attorney who spoke Tuesday against House Bill 2280, said people like Pearce are looking for a scapegoat for their woes.

'I think he sees illegal aliens as the plague that's causing all our societal ills, crime and moral decay,' he said. 'And I think he honestly believes it, which is the scary thing.'

Gould acknowledged that he was concerned with the speed at which bills were being pushed through and suggested legislatures slow down when considering bills. But he said that won't stop him from giving careful consideration to the immigration bills and other measures.

'My default setting is no,' he said. 'If I don't understand the bill or haven't had the proper time to consider it, I have no problem voting 'No.' '