Arizona voters will decide if local police can arrest people for crossing into the US from Mexico

Jun 3, 2024, 10:05 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2024, 6:48 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — The Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a proposal asking voters to make it a state crime for noncitizens to enter the state through Mexico at any location other than a port of entry, sending the measure to the Nov. 5 ballot.

The vote came as President Joe Biden unveiled plans Tuesday to restrict the number of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying “This action will help to gain control of our border, restore order to the process.”

Arizona’s proposal, approved on a 31-29 vote by the state House, would allow state and local police to arrest people crossing the border without authorization. It would also give state judges the power to order people convicted of the offense to return to their countries of origin.

The proposal bypasses Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who had vetoed a similar measure in early March and has denounced the effort to bring the issue to voters.

Hobbs spoke out against the bill’s approval, saying, “Extremists in the Legislature have chosen to prioritize their political agendas over finding real solutions.”

She said the legislation “will hurt Arizona businesses, send jobs out of state, make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs, and bust the state’s budget. It will not secure our border.”

House Republicans closed access to the upper gallery of the chamber before the session started Tuesday, citing concerns about security and possible disruptions. The move immediately drew the criticism of Democrats, who demanded that the gallery be reopened.

House representatives voted along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor of the proposal and all Democrats voting against it.

Supporters of the bill said it was necessary to ensure security along the state’s southern border, and that Arizona voters should be given the opportunity to decide the issue themselves.

“When the federal government fails, the state has to step in,” said state Rep. Timothy Dunn, a Republican who grew up in Yuma, Arizona, near the border with Mexico.

Opponents called the legislation unconstitutional and said it would lead to racial profiling and create several millions of dollars in additional policing costs that Arizona cities, counties and state can ill afford.

State Rep. Analise Ortiz, a Democrat whose family has lived in the United States for generations, said that under the law, “My brown skin could allow a police officer to pull me over on suspicions in the state where I was born.”

The measure will go before voters in a state expected to play a crucial role in determining which party controls the White House and the U.S. Senate — likely razor-close races in Arizona. Republicans hope it will focus attention on the border, which they accuse Biden of mishandling, and dilute the political benefits Democrats seek from an anticipated abortion-rights initiative.

Disorder on the border is a top motivator for many Republican voters who former President Donald Trump hopes will vote in big numbers. Immigration also concerns highly educated suburban voters who abandoned the GOP under Trump and helped power the Democrats’ rise in Arizona.

The proposal is similar to a Texas law that has been put on hold by a federal appeals court while it’s being challenged.

While federal law already prohibits the unauthorized entry of migrants into the U.S., proponents of the measure say it’s needed because the federal government hasn’t done enough to stop people from crossing illegally over Arizona’s vast, porous border with Mexico. They also said some people who enter Arizona without authorization commit identity theft and take advantage of public benefits.

Opponents say the proposal would saddle the state with new costs from law enforcement agencies without experience with immigration law, as well as hurt Arizona’s reputation in the business world.

Supports say the measure focuses only on the state’s border region and — unlike Arizona’s landmark 2010 immigration law — doesn’t target people statewide. Opponents point out the proposal doesn’t contain geographical limitations for enforcement.

The ballot proposal contains other provisions that aren’t included in the Texas measure and aren’t directly related to immigration. Those include making it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for selling fentanyl that leads to a person’s death, and a requirement that some government agencies use a federal database to verify a noncitizen’s eligibility for benefits.

Warning about potential legal costs, opponents pointed to Arizona’s 2005 immigrant smuggling ban used by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to carry out 20 large-scale traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. That led to a 2013 racial profiling verdict and taxpayer-funded legal and compliance costs that now total $265 million and are expected to reach $314 million by July 2025.

Under the current proposal, a first-time conviction of the border-crossing provision would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. State judges could order people to return to their countries of origin after completing a term of incarceration, although the courts would have the power to dismiss cases if those who were arrested agreed to return home.

The measure would require the state corrections department to take into custody people charged or convicted under it, if local or county law enforcement agencies don’t have space to house them.

The proposal includes exceptions for people granted lawful presence status or asylum by the federal government.

This isn’t the first time Republican lawmakers in Arizona have tried to criminalize migration.

When passing its 2010 immigration bill, the Arizona Legislature considered expanding the state’s trespassing law to criminalize the presence of immigrants and impose criminal penalties. But the trespassing language was removed and replaced with a requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question people’s immigration status if they were believed to be in the country illegally.

The questioning requirement was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court despite the racial profiling concerns of critics, but courts barred enforcement of other sections of the law.


Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper contributed reporting.

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Arizona voters will decide if local police can arrest people for crossing into the US from Mexico