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Not So Fast, Arizona (Those Anti-immigration Bills Could Easily Fail)

The Arizona senate is headed for a showdown over its controversial anti-immigration measures, with a number of Republican legislators likely to oppose the bills because they believe they violate the Constitution.

The proposals, which I wrote about last week, include a measure that would require schools to check the immigration status of their students, one that would force hospitals to check the legal status of their patients, and another that would create two different classes of birth certificates—one for children of legal immigrants, and one for children of the undocumented.

 At a Tuesday hearing that lasted until 2.30 a.m., all of these measures passed the Appropriations Committee, along with an even more drastic “immigration omnibus” bill. Earlier this week, Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini called the omnibus proposal “SB1070 on steroids”—a reference to last year’s controversial law requiring that immigrants carry identification at all times, which is currently being challenged in court by the Obama administration.

The omnibus bill would require K-12 schools (public, private, and home school) to report undocumented students to law enforcement. “Without a doubt, if this bill passes,” the Arizona ACLU’s Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze told me, “classrooms will be closed to students without legal status.” It would also require a 30-day minimum jail sentence for any undocumented immigrant caught driving a car. Anyone who knowingly lives in public housing with an undocumented immigrant, including a family member, would be forcibly evicted. Business licenses would be suspended for any employers that do not check the legal status of their workers with the federal E-verify system.  

Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce—who has pushed the current crop of anti-immigrant measures—introduced the omnibus measure just 24 hours before the Appropriations Committee’s last hearing of the session, which was supposed to be devoted to the state’s budget crisis. 

To pass, the measures need a simple majority of 16 of the 30 state senators. The nine Democrats will likely vote against them. Two Republican senators, Rich Crandall and John McComish have already come out publicly against the measures. McComish told me he opposed them for a “litany of reasons.” He explained, “I believe that birthright citizenship is unconstitutional on its face, and I swore an oath to defend the constitution. The bills don’t do what they purport to do…and they will be thrown out in court.” He added that the series of bills would be “bad for business,” in light of the boycotts of Arizona after the passage of SB1070.  Republican Senator Steve Pierce voiced similar concerns, saying that Arizona does need to tackle immigration, “but I don’t want to be doing stuff that’s not constitutional. I don’t want to do stuff that should be done by the federal government and the Supreme Court.”

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, says she counts nine possible no votes on the Republican side. McComish said the votes on the bills next week would be close, but believes “there will be a number of Republicans that will vote against them.” He pointed to two additional indicators that the proposals might fail: the birthright citizenship bills were held up in the Judiciary Committee a couple of weeks ago by the Republican chairman because they lacked sufficient support, and the omnibus bill only cleared the Appropriations Committee by a single vote. If the bills do fail, it will be a sign that this time Arizona’s anti-immigration politicians may finally have gone too far.