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Arizona's Democratic governor fights border package backed by state Republicans

Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks to the state Legislature as she delivers the State of the State address in Phoenix, Jan. 8, 2024.
Ross D. Franklin
Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks to the state Legislature as she delivers the State of the State address in Phoenix, Jan. 8, 2024.

Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and Republican state lawmakers both say the federal government isn't doing enough to secure the southern border.

But a package of measures Republicans say will crack down on illegal immigration in the state likely won't make it past the Hobbs' desk. She already vetoed a bill that would have allowed local police to enforce immigration laws, calling it "anti-immigrant" legislation designed to score political points.

"It is a bill that does not do anything to solve the border crisis," Hobbs said.

Critics like Alejandra Gomez with Living United for Change in Arizona compared the proposal to Senate Bill 1070, the controversial law from 2010 that authorized police to make warrantless arrests if they had probable cause that someone was in the U.S. illegally.

"I was here when our communities were being stopped and persecuted in the streets, at checkpoints, and asked for their papers and being deported," Gomez said.

Senate Bill 1070 was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, but Gomez still blames the law for a rise in racial profiling against the Latino community and worries the new proposals would do the same.

There are several immigration bills backed by Arizona Republicans this year that likely won't make it past Hobbs' veto pen.

Another would expand the state's Castle Doctrine law so ranchers could legally shoot and kill migrants who cross their land.

But Hobbs has joined Republicans in criticizing the federal government's border policies, and implemented her own immigration initiatives – including a migrant busing program and deploying the National Guard to border communities.

The political tug-of-war reflects the reality of split government in a border state, where both Republicans and Democrats criticize the federal government's border policies but disagree on the state's role in addressing the problem.

Republican state Sen. Janae Shamp, sponsor of the recently vetoed bill, said her proposal would have given local sheriffs the tools they need to combat illegal drug smuggling and human trafficking.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong, and we need to protect our citizens," she said.

But Hobbs' veto powers only go so far.

Another Republican proposal would make it tougher for undocumented migrants to work in the state by strengthening enforcement of the E-Verify system, which requires employers to verify a worker's legal status.

The measure would add felony charges and fines of up to $10,000 for individuals and businesses that attempt to evade that law.

But the measure wouldn't need Hobbs' signature if it passes out of the legislature, instead heading straight to voters on the November ballot.

Hobbs called the proposed referendum a political stunt by the bill's sponsor, House Speaker Ben Toma, who is running for Congress in a heavily Republican district in the Phoenix suburbs.

"I think what he's proposing has more to do with his run for Congress than actually solving the problem," Hobbs said. "But I understand legislators' frustration, in line with Arizonans' frustration, about Washington's failure to act."

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Democratic President Joe Biden has signed 535 immigration-related actions, surpassing the Trump administration's total. And he urged Congress to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill earlier this year. But Toma said the federal government and Hobbs aren't doing enough.

"Our border is being overrun by illegal aliens, and it is painfully clear at this point that our governor and our president are doing nothing about it," Toma said.

Hobbs has been vocal when it comes to criticizing the Biden administration over its border policies and bristled at Toma's accusation that she is part of the problem.

"It is an absolute mischaracterization to say that my office hasn't done anything on border security," Hobbs said.

But the governor said Toma's employment legislation goes too far – and Latino advocacy groups in the state agree.

Monica Villalobos with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said the proposal would lead to racial profiling, unfairly target Latinos and hurt the economy in a state where key sectors like construction are already facing a labor shortage.

"Bad policies like these do not strengthen Arizona law. Instead, it restricts the ability of Arizona businesses to thrive, especially when we have a workforce shortage," Villalobos said.

Some of the same groups that came together to oppose SB 1070 in 2010 are part of the coalition opposing the new package of immigration bills.

Gomez said the groups are preparing a campaign to convince voters to reject the employment proposal if it reaches the ballot.

"But what we are saying, is not today," Gomez said. "You can't have that. Not on the backs of our families.

Copyright 2024 KJZZ

Wayne Schutsky
[Copyright 2024 KJZZ]