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Activists, business groups plan campaigns to oppose Republican border ballot referral

People hold banners
Wayne Schutsky/KJZZ
Activists protest immigration legislation outside the Arizona Senate on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

An Arizona ballot proposal that would enable state law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants is facing stiff opposition from activist groups with a long history opposing similar types of legislation – and the business community, too.

The ballot measure, known as HCR 2060, would ask voters to create a state law criminalizing crossing the border outside of a legal port of entry. That’s already illegal under federal law, but the new proposal would empower local police to enforce it.

It’s similar to measures in other states, like the so-called SB 4 law in Texas now held up in the courts.

But in Arizona, there’s history.

Lawmakers passed another immigration bill, called SB 1070, in 2010 and that experience has helped Latino activists prepare to oppose HCR 2060.

Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, is one of several groups organizing campaigns to oppose the proposal. The organization itself traces its origin to 2010, when Arizona lawmakers passed SB 1070, popularly called the “show me your papers” law.

“Nearly 14 years ago, I stood before our community terrified about what was coming from the Arizona legislature,” LUCHA Executive Director Alejandra Gomez said. “We weren't ready. We had no choice but to organize.”

Woman in blue shirt speaks at podium
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA, a Latino rights group that opposed HCR 2060, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

Gomez said the 2010 law, which was later partially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, led to racial profiling by law enforcement. Joe Garcia, who works with another group opposing the measure called Chicanos Por La Causa, agreed.

And he believes voters will stand up to oppose HCR 2060 for that same concern.

“SB 1070 did more than every other group really trying to get people to register to vote and to vote. SB 1070 got people focused,” Garcia said. “I think this is going to have the same effect.”

He alleges the new ballot question is again designed to exploit negative stereotypes about immigrants as the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border dominates public consciousness.

“It is intended to drive people to the polls through fear and through hatred. It is not based on reality.

But proponents said it’s different from the 2010 law, because police will need concrete evidence — like witnessing a person cross the border illegally — in order to make an arrest.

“The standard in this bill is probable cause, not reasonable suspicion like all the other so-called previous mistakes in other bills,” House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) said. “This cannot honestly be referred to as the ‘show me your papers’ bill.”

The proposal specifically defines probable cause as a law enforcement officer witnessing a violation; a video recording of a violation; or “any other constitutionally sufficient indicia of probable cause.”

Ben Toma
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Ben Toma

Toma and legislative Republicans voted to put the question on the ballot after Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a similar bill.

Now groups like LUCHA are preparing to defeat it at the ballot.

LUCHA said it plans to knock on 1 million doors this year and register 20,000 voters. It also has filed a lawsuit to block the question from appearing on the ballot.

“This is not 2010 anymore,” Gomez said. “This is 2024 and we are prepared to fight back and win.”

Over the past 14 years, LUCHA has grown into a full-fledged political machine. In 2022 alone, it spent over $1 million to influence various ballot measure campaigns in Arizona, including a successful effort to give in-state tuition at public universities to Dreamers.

Influential members of Arizona’s business community have also committed to opposing the ballot referral. That’s a marked change from 14 years ago when major business opposition didn’t emerge until after the law had passed.

Arizona faced calls for boycotts in 2010, and a progressive think tank estimated the state lost $141 million dollars due to the law — a relatively small sum compared to the state’s overall economy.

That figure was disputed by some critics. But James O’Neil with the American Business Immigration Council said memories of the 2010 law are what prompted many business groups to speak up now.

“Everybody still remembers the reputational damage that 1070 did,” he said. “Everybody remembers the damage that it caused and so I think that’s why folks are ready, willing and poised to defeat this initiative.”

Influential groups like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce lobbied the legislature not to send the ballot referral to voters, fearing the economic impact.

The Chamber has not said whether it plans to participate in the campaign to defeat the legislation at the ballot, but O’Neil said his group is coordinating a response from multiple business groups in Arizona.

“We will work with the businesses that want to speak out through op-eds, through messaging, through education of their membership. … We'll also support the ones that want to donate financially and be a part of this larger movement,” O’Neil said.

Meanwhile, it is less clear who will be campaigning to pass the proposal.

Toma, who sponsored it, said he doesn’t know who will be leading that campaign yet. But he said voters will support the measure even if there isn’t significant funding behind the effort.

“When you’re talking to average voters, they understand this is actually really a border security issue first and foremost and a border security bill more than it is an immigration bill. And, as such, they – I think it’s gonna be fine,” Toma said.

Toma has reason to think it won’t be hard to convince people to vote yes.

Polling shows a majority of Arizona voters would like to see a decrease in the number of migrants crossing the state’s border with Mexico.

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.
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