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Republican lawmakers reveal details of border security measure they want to send to voters

Republican lawmakers in the Arizona Senate revealed the details of their plans to send a border security bill vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs to voters.

The proposal, dubbed the Secure the Border Act, would make it a state crime to cross the border illegally, empowering local and state police to enforce immigration law. Hobbs vetoed a similar measure on March 4.

“These bills don’t do anything to really address border security issues that we’re facing,” Hobbs said at the time.

But if Republicans successfully pass this new measure, Hobbs won’t have the opportunity to veto it again.

It is too late to introduce new legislation this year, but Republican senators plan to circumvent that deadline issue by amending an existing measure sponsored by House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) that was already approved by the Arizona House along party lines.

“Arizona Democrats in power have shown us time after time, with every 'no' vote and veto of our border security legislation, that are not concerned for the safety and well-being of our citizens, nor have any care for the wasted taxpayer dollars being used to mitigate the fallout from Biden's border invasion,” Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) said in a statement.

Senators will consider the amendment, introduced by Sen. David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), on Wednesday at a meeting of the Military Affairs, Public Safety and Border Security Committee.

The original version of HCR 2060  would have asked voters to strengthen existing employment laws that would make it tougher for people who cross the border illegally to work in the state

Because the measure is a ballot referral, it will go directly to voters, not Hobbs, if it passes through the Legislature. 

The amended version of the bill would retain some of Toma’s language, including making it a felony for someone in the country illegally to submit fake documents to the federal, state or local governments in order to obtain public benefits.  

It would also make it a felony if a person in the country illegally submits fake information to employers to evade detection by the federal e-verify system. But the amendment would remove language making it a felony for employers to knowingly refuse to use the e-verify system. 

Toma said he supports the changes.  

“The Secure the Border Act reflects a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to combating illegal immigration, which is a top priority for the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and a leading concern for voters of all parties,” Toma said in a statement.

Democrats and immigrant rights activists have staunchly opposed a raft of Republican immigration bills introduced this year, including Toma’s e-verify referral and the vetoed bills criminalizing illegal border crossings in state law.

“There are some politicians who are hell bent on making this their political posturing so they can advance in their political careers, but what we are saying is ‘not today,’” said Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United For Change Arizona, at a press conference in February.

Gomez compared the legislation to SB 1070, a controversial immigration law passed in 2010 that was partially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Republicans’ new proposal includes a clause stating it cannot go into effect until 60 days after the Supreme Court overrules that SB 1070 decision or any part of Texas’ SB 4 – the bill Arizona’s border crossing legislation is based on – goes into effect.

SB 4 is currently on hold pending a legal challenge working its way through federal courts.

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.