KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Federal inaction at the U.S.-Mexico border sparks fight at Arizona Capitol

Republican state lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs agree — they say the federal government has fallen short in securing the state’s southern border. 

But they are at odds over a Republican package of bills that would restrict immigration and have drawn comparisons to controversial legislation passed in Arizona over a decade ago.

Republicans in the state Legislature passed a law in January that would allow local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. Latino advocacy groups compared the new law to SB 1070, a law the Legislature passed 14 years ago that was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Critics like Alejandra Gomez with Living United for Change in Arizona blamed SB 1070 for a rise in racial profiling against the Latino community.

“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.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the parts of SB 1070 that empowered local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.

But the new measure, with its similarities to SB 1070, will never see the inside of a courtroom.

Hobbs vetoed it, calling it “anti-immigrant” legislation designed to score political points. She said the legislation would hurt the economy and disproportionately impact the Latino community and other minority groups.

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

That legislation is just one of 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.

The tug of war over these bills 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.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong, and we need to protect our citizens,” said state Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise), a nurse who sponsored the vetoed bill. 

She said it was not motivated by racial animus and would simply give local sheriffs the tools they need to combat illegal drugs being smuggled and human trafficking.

“So when someone’s not doing their job, where I come from, people die,” Shamp said. “Well, people are dying right now, because of the federal government not doing their job.

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 existing employment laws that require employers to verify a worker’s legal status using the federal E-Verify system. The new measure would add potential felony charges and fines of up to $10,000 for individuals and businesses that attempt to evade that law.

If it passes out of the Legislature, it wouldn’t need Hobbs’ signature and would instead go straight to voters on the November ballot.

Hobbs called it a political stunt by the bill’s sponsor, House Speaker Ben Toma, who is running for Congress in the heavily Republican Congressional District 8 in the West Valley. 

“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. 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 almost as vocal as Republicans when it comes to criticizing the Biden administration over its border policies but bristled at Toma’s accusation that she is part of the problem. The governor has implemented her own immigration policies, including a migrant busing program and deploying the National Guard to border communities.

“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 that gathered at the Arizona Capitol to oppose it agreed. Monica Villalobos with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said it 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.

Gomez said her group is prepared to knock on 1 million doors in Arizona this year.

More stories from KJZZ

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.