In a move immigrant rights supporters hail as a victory, the Arizona Senate, which has a Republican majority, defeated five anti-immigrant bills March 17. Arizona, a border state, has been at the forefront of recently enacting draconian laws widely seen as repressive and racist towards Mexican and Latin American immigrants (documented and undocumented) and all people of Latino descent.
Last year, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, which grants local law enforcement the authority to detain people they suspect to be living in the country illegally.
A federal judge, acting on a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration, has stayed central provisions of that law.
Arizona's senate Republicans were split on the recent bills. Yet, enough of them joined every Democrat in the state senate to oppose the measures, which they say went too far.
State lawmakers rejected the package of new bills including two that would have challenged citizenship for U.S.-born children of undocumented parents. Citizenship is guaranteed in the Constitution for all people born in the United States.
Arizona is one of more than a dozen states where lawmakers plan to push through legislation targeting citizenship and the Constitution. In most cases those efforts have been stalled.
Other defeated measures would have:
• required hospitals to determine the legal status of their patients;
• restricted registration of vehicles to only those who can prove they are citizens and make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to drive in Arizona;
• barred admission into state universities and community colleges to those who cannot prove they are citizens or legal residents;
• mandated cities to evict public housing residents if even one occupant of a unit is an undocumented immigrant.
Senators also killed legislation that would have required parents to provide proof of citizenship or other legal documents for any child being enrolled in a public school.
Also shot down was a related bill that would have forced schools to produce a count of how many undocumented children are in Arizona schools.
During the floor debate, Democratic Senate Minority Leader David Schapira asked, "What is the cost to our future as a state and a country when we pass legislation that says we will no longer educate?"
Sen. Steve Gallardo exposed the anti-youth nature of the bills. "We are no longer going after human smugglers. We are no longer going after employers. We are now going after the youth and their future. What state makes it illegal to go to college?"
The vote came after a plea earlier this week by 60 CEOs urging Arizona lawmakers to put a halt to enacting any more controversial immigration laws. The business community said in a letter to lawmakers that Arizona has suffered from the boycotts called in the wake of last year's approval of SB 1070.
Plus, passing new anti-immigrant bills would continue to throw new barriers in the path of economic development, the business leaders said.
It could have been that business pressure which influenced state Republicans. GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough insisted state leaders should focus on its budget and not a divisive issue that puts Arizona in a bad light.
The votes are a major victory for immigrant rights and a setback for Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican, who wrote and backed each of the five bills. Pearce was also the main sponsor and writer of Arizona's SB 1070. Until now, most GOP lawmakers had been willing to go along with anything he wanted.
Republican Sen. John McComish said Pearce's immigration bills were a distraction. "They could be a detriment to the growth of our economy, and they are something people don't want us to be focused on," he told the Arizona Republic. "It's time for us to take a timeout on immigration."
Photo: In 2010, massive protests, like this one in California, erupted across the country after Arizona's governor signed SB 1070 into law. (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)