Bill in Arizona would punish migrants who enter country illegally

Feb 29, 2024, 5:00 PM

FILE - A group of migrants walk along the border in a remote part of the Arizona desert as they joi...

FILE - A group of migrants walk along the border in a remote part of the Arizona desert as they join hundreds of migrants gathering along the border Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Lukeville, Ariz. Republicans in swing state Arizona are doubling down on border security with legislation aimed at punishing migrants who enter the United States illegally, including one bill to lawfully allow property owners to shoot and kill anyone criminally trespassing on their property. Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is expected to veto both pieces of proposed legislation. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans in swing state Arizona are broadcasting a tough border stance with legislation aimed at punishing migrants who enter the United States illegally. The proponent of one bill has suggested it would lawfully allow property owners to shoot and kill migrants criminally trespassing on their property.

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is expected to veto the trespassing bill as well as one that cleared the second of both houses Wednesday that would make it a state crime to enter Arizona illegally between ports of entry.

“They are acting on clear political signals from the voters that immigration and the border is their No. 1 issue,” Stan Barnes, a Phoenix-based political consultant and former Republican state senator, said of the GOP lawmakers. “This is what their constituents want.”

Arrests for illegal crossings topped 2 million for the first time in each of the government’s last two budget years, and Arizona in recent months emerged as the most popular area to cross.

The state Senate’s GOP said the “Arizona Border Invasion Act” would “protect Arizona citizens and communities from the crime and security threats associated with the current border invasion caused by the Biden Administration’s refusal to enforce immigration laws.”

It would allow local law enforcement to arrest non-U.S. citizens who enter Arizona from anywhere but a lawful entrance point. A violation would be a top-tier misdemeanor – or a low-level felony for second offenses.

“I think we are seeing an effort in these bills to advance an inflammatory immigration agenda,” said Noah Schramm, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona. “They seem to trying to force Hobbs into a situation where she has to say ‘no,’ and then they can say she is unwilling to do anything on the border.”

The moves in Arizona come as Republicans in several states, most notably Texas, trumpet tough immigration policies in the lead up to this year’s presidential election.

A federal judge on Thursday blocked a new Texas law that would give police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of illegally entering the U.S., rejecting Republican Gov. Abbott’s immigration enforcement effort. The preliminary injunction pausing the law came as President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger in November, Donald Trump, were visiting distinct areas of the Texas-Mexico border.

Federal law already prohibits the unauthorized entry of migrants into the U.S. But Republicans in Arizona and Texas say that the U.S. government is not doing enough and they need additional state powers.

Hobbs “has declared on numerous occasions her disapproval for the lawlessness caused by the federal government’s open border policies,” said Arizona Sen. Janae Shamp, who sponsored the state border control bill. “Now is her chance to protect the citizens of Arizona by signing.”

Hobbs confirmed Thursday she planned to veto the bills and said she recognizes that Arizonans are frustrated by the situation on the border.

“But passing job killing, anti-business bills that demonize our communities is not the solution,” she said. “Instead of securing our border, these bills will simply raise costs, hurt our farmers, put Arizona entrepreneurs out of business, and destroy jobs for countless working class Arizonans.”

A separate Arizona bill that focuses on trespassing has raised eyebrows because of its author’s stated intention that it could be used by farmers to legally kill people crossing their properties.

But the text of the bill does not mention migrants or the border, instead making a few changes in an existing law.

Republican Rep. Justin Heap used the example of a rancher defending his property from migrants when he said his bill would close “a loophole” in the earlier law that allows a property owner to use deadly force against someone inside a home but not elsewhere on the property.

“We are seeing an increasingly larger number of migrants or human traffickers moving across farm and ranchland,” Heap told a committee hearing earlier this year.

His statement brought to mind one case in which border rancher George Kelly faces trial later this month in the fatal shooting of a migrant on his Nogales area property.

Abbott said in an interview with a conservative commentator earlier this year that his state was doing everything to stop migrants from crossing the border illegally short of shooting them “because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”

This isn’t the first time Republican lawmakers in Arizona have tried to criminalize migrants who aren’t authorized to be in the United States.

When passing its landmark 2010 immigration bill, the Arizona Legislature considered expanding the state’s trespassing law to criminalize the presence of immigrants and imposed 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’re 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.

The law touched off a national furor with supporters calling for similar legislation for their own states and detractors calling for an economic boycott of Arizona.

Several other Arizona immigration laws have been thrown out by courts over the years.

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Bill in Arizona would punish migrants who enter country illegally