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Elvia Díaz: Secure the Border Act will result in racial profiling — and not just near the border

Arizona lawmakers are expected to vote this week on a strict immigration enforcement measure Republican leadership wants to send to the ballot this Fall. The measure would allow local law enforcement to go after illegal border crossers. It’s modeled after Texas’ controversial SB 4, which is still tied up in the courts.

And critics say it brings Arizona back nearly 15 years, to when GOP lawmakers passed SB 1070.

Republicans in the state Legislature say the measure is necessary because of what they say has been the federal government’s failure to secure the border. But Elvia Díaz says it will result in racial profiling.

Díaz is the Editorial Page editor of The Arizona Republic, and she joined The Show to tell us more.

Full conversation

LAUREN GILGER: Let’s begin with your basic concerns here in terms of looking at the actual language of this bill.

ELVIA DÍAZ: You are correct when you say that this is SB 1070 all over again. But I will say this is much worse because one, what they’re proposing is to send it to the ballot in November. And if it passes, then that’s it. The Legislature cannot make any changes whatsoever.

And so they do say that this is about border security because what’s happening with all the migrants showing up at the U.S. border, but they are including so many restrictions here, Lauren, on this bill. To begin with, they want to make it a criminal offense, a state criminal offense for crossing the border illegally.

So that’s at the top of their list. And that’s the rhetoric. That’s what they’re saying it will mostly do. But again, there’s so many other things that they are including here: penalties for crossing the border, keeping them in jail or if they don’t agree to be deported — presumably back to Mexico.

And then most importantly, how are they going to be implementing this law?

GILGER: So lots of questions still. But you’re basically saying here that this measure goes far beyond the border itself.

DÍAZ: Of course. When the state Legislature was having a hearing, they kept saying that this is not about racially profiling, this is about illegal immigration. Even the supporters of this bill do not know exactly how they were going to implement this, and we’re talking about the Sheriffs.

So the problem with this bill is specifically that they keep saying that to make it a crime to cross the border, authority would have to have probable cause to go after an undocumented immigrant. And to do that, they kept saying that someone would have to see the person crossing the border illegally, or there would have to be a witness account.

The problem with that is that the bill that the resolution as it is proposed right now, it does not limit that kind of enforcement to the border. So technically, it’ll be implemented anywhere in Arizona.

And how else are they gonna know — let’s say that someone in Flagstaff or someone in rural Arizona, they get stopped for a traffic violation — that that person crossed the border illegally? So there’s so many questions about this legislation.

GILGER: Remind us, Elvia, what we saw after SB 1070 in terms of racial profiling. What that debate was about. You’re talking about traffic stops turning into illegal immigration arrests.

DÍAZ: Well, yes, exactly. Here in my column, I was saying that most asylum seekers showing up at the border come from countries — at least in the past few years — come from countries who are darker skinned. So we’re talking about Central America, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti. So those are the kind of people that are showing up at the border. Yes, we have people from Ukraine, but they’re mostly accepted here as legal asylum seekers.

So let’s say someone gets stopped in Phoenix or any other part of the interior. How else are you going to have probable cause to ask for immigration papers? One, the color of the skin, or with your ID if you have a foreign ID or a passport — well, then that’s it. That’s your probable cause, right?

With SB 1070 what we saw, the brown people were stopped and asked about their immigration papers. And we saw that with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and that has been in litigation ever since. And we know that that has cost taxpayers money, hundreds of millions of dollars because of that.

GILGER: What about, though, the situation at the border, the record number of migrants that we have seen arrive, the sort of overwhelming of the immigration system? Is there a sense among everyone that something needs to be done?

DÍAZ: Well yes, of course. There is a problem at the U.S.-Mexico border. And yes, it is true that the Biden administration has not been able to handle that sheer number showing up and that (something) needs to be done. It is important to remind people that there was a real proposal in Congress, with bipartisan support, that Republicans after former President Donald Trump told them not to do it, decided to go against it.

So there have been real proposals, and the Republicans have not done anything about it. So yes, there is a problem at the border. But that’s a federal issue. Immigration enforcement should be at the federal level.

GILGER: So as we said at the top, this would go to the ballot if it’s passed this week at the state Capitol, and voters would vote on it in November. What do you think might happen politically? Do you think that voters would pass something like this in Arizona today?

DÍAZ: Unfortunately, I believe that would be the case. You mentioned earlier, you know, there is a situation at the border, and I think people are just fed up of hearing that. It doesn’t mean that they feel it, but that rhetoric is there, and they see it, and it’s true.

So there is a sense of something needs to be done. And if they feel the federal government is not doing anything, then who else is going to do it?

So unfortunately, I do think voters might be inclined to pass that. And that’s what Republicans are doing. They are countering the abortion popularity with voters. So they want something at the ballot that would anger people and that would help them get elected.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.