PHOENIX — The Republican-controlled Legislature took the first steps Thursday to seek voter approval for a constitutional ban on “sanctuary” policies by government agencies.
On a 4-3 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved language that would enshrine in the Arizona Constitution a requirement, approved by the Legislature in 2010, requiring police to cooperate in enforcement of immigration laws.
But SCR 1007 goes beyond that. It would extend the ban on sanctuary policies to universities, public schools and hospital districts, a change an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said would effectively force those entities to share data about students, patients and others with federal immigration officials.
The vote came after an often-heated session, with some audience members shouting their objections. And Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chairs the panel, gaveled down one speaker who called SCR 1007 “racist.” Several audience members were escorted out of the meeting by security officers.
“There’s nothing racist about anyone up here,” Farnsworth told Hugo Polanco, who was testifying on behalf of Living United for Change in Arizona, a Hispanic activist organization.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, the sponsor of the measure, said SCR 1007 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 federal 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.”
There are no “sanctuary cities” in Arizona. The closest the state came to one was last year when voters in Tucson rejected a proposal to make such a declaration.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, pointed out that there are already laws on the books covering the issue, all part of SB 1070, enacted in 2010, which was designed to give police more power to enforce federal immigration laws. Federal courts have since voided many of the provisions.
But they left intact requirements for police to inquire about the immigration status of those they have stopped for other reasons. And what’s left also includes requirements for police to cooperate with federal immigration officials, including holding inmates being discharged from local jails when Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a “hold” on them.
What that suggests, Quezada said, is a political motive for SCR 1007: Putting something on the November ballot designed to “pander to a small group of people who are into this type of thing.”
“There is a base of people who like this kind of stuff,” he said. “There is a president in office now that promotes this kind of stuff. And I can understand the desire to appeal to that base and to appeal to that constituency.”
Farnsworth, however, said there are valid reasons for pursuing the constitutional amendment.
It starts, he said, with the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s 19 charter cities are not subject to certain state laws. Farnsworth said this amendment would foreclose any argument charter cities might have that SB 1070 does not apply to them.
Farnsworth said the measure does not change any standards for immigration.
“It says we as a state are going to adhere to the immigration policies which are the exclusive purview of the federal government,” he said. “And we expect that the political subdivisions of this state are going to adhere as well.”
It’s not just legislative Republicans who are pushing that agenda. Gov. Doug Ducey called for such a constitutional amendment in his State of the State address last month.
That expansion beyond the requirements in SB 1070 for cooperation by police with immigration officials did cause some concern.
“SCR 1007 would require any political subdivision of Arizona, including schools, university and health-care centers, to coordinate and collaborate with federal immigration entities in determining the immigration status of any individual,” said Darrell Hill of the American Civil Liberties Union. “SCR 1007 turns every part of Arizona’s government into immigration enforcers, destroying the trust between community and government.”
And what that also means, Hill said, is that “untrained government officials” will be trying to figure out who is in this country legally and who is not, “leading to abuses and violations of civil liberties.”
“Teachers in Tucson Unified School District may be forced to supply immigration information regarding students in their classroom,” he said.
“Parks may be asked to perform immigration checks on visitors,” Hill continued. “Patients at Maricopa Medical Center may be ripped out of their hospital beds as nurses and doctors are forced to comply with federal immigration authorities.”
Farnsworth said he sees nothing wrong with telling public officials and employees they will obey the law.
“If you don’t like the law, change it,” he said.
Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said his vote to put the issue on the November ballot was not divisive.
“If the majority of people in Arizona don’t want this, it gives them a great opportunity to voice their opinion,” he said. “We are not mandating this.”
Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, whose grandparents brought his father and uncle to this country from Sonora, took offense to Allen’s analysis of who is immigrating here.
“They’re not all druggies, they’re not all drug lords, they’re not all any of that,” he said, saying there are “bad people” in every race, in every country.
And Sen. Andrea Dallesandro, D-Green Valley, chided her Republican colleagues for suggesting that immigrants are somehow dangerous, pointing out she is the only legislator on the panel from a border county.
“I struggle to feel as safe here in Phoenix as I feel in Santa Cruz County, all the way down to Nogales,” she said.
Dallesandro added that “political rhetoric like this” does great harm to border counties, sending the message that it’s not safe to live there. “It hurts my constituents,” she said.
Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, has introduced a virtually identical measure in the House but it has yet to get a hearing.
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