PHOENIX — A debate in the Arizona Legislature over a proposal that would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration agents laid bare the stark divide over the issue.
On one side of the debate late Thursday was a lawmaker smuggled into the U.S. as a young child who called for immigration reform and an end to splitting up families. On the other was a legislator who just as passionately called for the return of the “rule of law” that has drawn immigrants to the country for more than a hundred years.
House Bill 2121 would bar local officials from refusing to comply with federal immigration agents as they pursue immigrants living illegally in the U.S. The measure sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Thorpe, of Flagstaff, would require counties and municipalities to allow immigration officers to interview inmates in jail, receive detainees’ incarceration status and their proposed release dates.
The legislation would also make local governments liable for any person who is injured by someone who is released when there is a request for their confinement. It passed the House late Thursday on a voice vote and awaits a formal vote before heading to the Senate.
Democratic state Rep. Isela Blanc, of Tempe, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 10 and later become a citizen, spoke fervently against the proposal and repeatedly described it as an “incredibly divisive bill.” Blanc said when she was living in the U.S. illegally as a young child, she felt safe and unafraid, but that’s not true for young people now.
“This for me is a bill that really separates our Arizona,” Blanc said. “This is seriously hurting families, and it’s hurting our communities.”
The debate unfolded just days after Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said his department will end a policy former Sheriff Joe Arpaio put in place that allowed access. The policy routinely kept immigrants locked up a few extra days after their release date to give federal authorities a chance to check their immigration status and launch deportation proceedings.
Republican state Rep. Kelly Townsend, of Mesa, said the bill would help restore the law and order she thinks the country has not had over the past eight years in regard to immigration.
“It’s not that we are trying to break up families,” Townsend said. “It’s not that we are cold-hearted, it’s that there are consequences to illegal actions. Bringing your children into a country, (if) you’ve done that illegally, that’s going to create consequences. And yes, it’s uncomfortable, it’s emotional.”
The measure is one of the few forays the Arizona Legislature has made since SB 1070, a 2010 Arizona law that requires police to check the immigration status of people they have reasonable suspicion of living illegally in the country.
Its passage drew widespread protests and a boycott of Arizona and sparked a national debate over the law and its legality. The backlash and the recall of its key sponsor, then-Senate President Russell Pearce, chilled the GOP-controlled Legislature from proposing strict immigration measures after SB 1070 became law.
However, their efforts have returned amid the Trump administration’s demand for a tougher stance on immigration, and a directive for a nationwide crackdown on an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
This story has been corrected to delete a reference that said the new proposal makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime.