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LUCHA lawsuit challenges Arizona GOP border security measure, saying it isn't single subject

A progressive advocacy group has filed a lawsuit challenging the controversial border ballot referral passed by Arizona Republican lawmakers, saying it violates the state Constitution. 

HCR 2060, which was approved along party lines in the Arizona House of Representatives on Tuesday, would make it a state crime to cross Arizona’s border with Mexico outside of a port of entry, empowering local and state police to enforce immigration law.

During the vote, Democrats claimed the ballot referral covers too many different areas of law in violation of a state constitutional provision requiring individual pieces of legislation to stick to a single subject.

“Instead, [HCR] 2060 embraces a hodgepodge of disparate subjects, including employment verification; immigration law, immigration enforcement; sentencing for drug crimes; laws related to city, town and county administration of public benefits; and the legislature's right to intervene in lawsuits,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Oscar De Los Santos (D-Laveen), who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit alongside the group Living United for Change in Arizona.

House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria), who sponsored the measure, disagreed.

“On the single subject, that’s been cleared already; we’re good,” Toma said. 

But the lawsuit, filed Wednesday by attorney Jim Barton, points out that HCR 2060 includes aspects of multiple different Republican bills that failed or were vetoed earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, including the border crossing measure that Republican lawmakers modeled on Texas’ SB 4.

HCR 2060 also mirrored other legislation targeting people who sell fentanyl and those using fraudulent documents to obtain employment or public benefits.

“This [single subject] rule ensures that acts of the Legislature do not result in surprise from unrelated propositions that are under the same act in order to attract majority support for what would otherwise be unpopular measures,” Barton said.

Barton is asking a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to rule HCR 2060 unconstitutional and issue an order stopping the secretary of state from placing it on the ballot.

“In a sense, there is a unifying principle behind HCR 2060, and that is the sinister scapegoating of immigrants for all the ills of our state. … Folks, racial animus and scapegoating of intimacy of immigrants are neither 1A single subject that satisfies Arizona's constitutional requirement for legislative acts,” Barton said. 

Toma, the bill’s Republican sponsor, criticized the lawsuit.

“The Democrats' open border policies have wrought crime, deadly drugs, violence, unsafe communities and an unending financial drain on American taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “Arizonans have had enough and want change. HCR 2060 empowers Arizona voters to have their will heard, and that is clearly panicking liberal leaders and their activist allies who fiercely oppose any efforts to secure the border.”

Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, is also preparing a campaign to convince voters to reject HCR 2060. 

“As a coalition, all the organizations have been in strong support against HCR 2060,” LUCHA spokesperson Scianna Garcia said. “Each org has been expending resources to fight it at the [Legislature] and will at the ballot box as well if needed.” 

The organization pointed to a list of business and faith groups compiled by the American Business Immigration Coalition that have already stated their opposition to the ballot referral. The list includes Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Local First Arizona, and Arizona Faith Network.

“Defeating HCR 2060 begins in the courts, where we will challenge its constitutionality, and it will end at the ballot box,” LUCHA Executive Director Alejandra Gomez said.

Both the American Business Immigration Coalition and Local First Arizona confirmed they plan to participate in the anti-HCR 2060 campaign.

“ABIC is a member of the Arizona coalition, which is in the process of planning the next steps, including a campaign infrastructure and fundraising to defeat HCR 2060,” ABIC spokesperson Anna Núñez said. “Once it is set up, we will contribute.”

Thomas Barr with Local First Arizona said his organization plans to continue sounding the alarm about HCR 2060’s potential negative impacts.

Like LUCHA, business groups like Local First have compared HCR 2060 to the controversial SB 1070 immigration legislation passed in Arizona over a decade ago that became a political lightning rod and led to boycotts of the state.

“We’ll continue to ensure Arizona voters are informed about the unintended consequences of this,” Barr said.

He said it will draw negative attention to the state, hurt tourism and detract from efforts to attract new businesses to Arizona.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce also came out against HCR 2060 before the Legislature approved it, but chamber CEO Danny Seiden did not respond to a request to comment on whether the organization will participate in the anti-HCR 2060 campaign.

At this point, little is known about who will spearhead the effort to convince voters to approve HCR 2060. 

Toma, the House speaker, said he anticipates a campaign will come together but said he believes the measure will pass at the ballot even without significant financial backing. 

“Actually, I think this is going to pass without much of a funding source on this,” Toma said.

Funding should not be an issue for LUCHA’s campaign, as the organization has poured millions of dollars into Arizona elections in recent years.

According to state campaign finance records, LUCHA spent over $1 million during the 2022 election cycle for and against several ballot-measure campaigns. All three measures the group supported received voter approval, including a measure providing in-state college tuition rates to "Dreamers" and another targeting "dark money" campaign contributions.

Two of the three ballot measures LUCHA opposed were passed by voters, including a measure referred by the state Legislature imposing the “single subject” rule on citizen-led ballot initiatives.

Also in 2022, LUCHA spent nearly $1 million for and against candidates for legislative and statewide offices.

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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.