Arizona Senate votes down Pearce's illegal immigration legislation - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Arizona Senate votes down Pearce's illegal immigration legislation

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Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 4:57 pm | Updated: 11:32 pm, Sat Mar 19, 2011.

Concluding the measures go too far, state senators on Thursday rejected a package of bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

With Republicans joining the minority Democrats, lawmakers refused to approve bills which, taken together, were designed to challenge the notion that someone born in the United States is automatically considered a citizen.

They also voted down measures to:

• Require hospitals to make an effort to determine if the people they are treating are in this country legally;

• Restrict the registration of vehicles to only legal residents;

• Make it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to drive in Arizona;

• Bar admission into state universities and community colleges of anyone who cannot prove citizenship or legal residency;

• Mandate that cities evict all residents of a public housing unit if even one occupant is an illegal immigrant.

Senators also refused to require parents to provide proof of citizenship or other legal presence for any child being enrolled in school. And they killed a related bill to force schools to produce a count of illegal immigrants in Arizona schools.

Technically, nothing in either measure would have precluded a child from being enrolled, as the U.S. Supreme Court has forbid public schools from imposing citizenship or legal residence requirements on public school students. But the new requirement, coupled with current laws about what schools have to report to law enforcement, could have resulted in some parents who are illegal immigrants deciding not to enroll their children.

"The only thing this bill does is it would put fear in the families of those that may have someone in their family who's undocumented," said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "It has nothing to do with the kids."

The votes are a major setback for Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who wrote or backed each of the five bills.

He has been at the forefront of Arizona's fight to enact new state laws aimed at illegal immigrants and crafted last year's legislation to give police more power to detain illegal immigrants. Until now, most GOP lawmakers have been willing to go along with anything Pearce wanted.

Pearce was visibly unhappy about that, lashing out at those who voted against the bills and other foes.

"The only impediment to enforcing our laws is the lack of political courage on the part of our elected and appointed officials," Pearce said. "You bear the burden and responsibility for the costs and the maimings and the deaths."

Those rejected bills on what have been called "birthright citizenship" proved the most controversial, with several Republicans unwilling to go along with Pearce and the rest of Senate leadership.

SB 1308 and SB 1309 spelled out that Arizona citizenship - and by extension, national citizenship - is limited to the children of those who owe no allegiance to any other country. And the state would have issued a different birth certificate if at least one parent could not prove citizenship or permanent legal residency.

Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, said that, if nothing else, the measure is based on the fallacy that citizenship is dependent on a birth certificate. He said even the federal government provides passports with other documentation.

Pearce said the real purpose behind these measures was to force the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the scope of the 14th Amendment. That amendment says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." Pearce contends that children of illegal immigrants are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country because their parents owe allegiance to a foreign power.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, countered that already is a settled issue. And Yarbrough, who said he voted for every prior measure aimed at illegal immigration, said he can't support these two bills because he doubts the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the issue and provide the clear ruling that Pearce wants.

But Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said the political future of Arizona is dependent on adoption of these bills.

"California chose not to address the illegal alien issue," he said. "For all intents and purposes, that state has been lost politically."

Thursday's votes also came following a plea earlier this week by dozens of business owners to put a halt to further immigration bills.

In a letter to lawmakers, they said Arizona suffered boycotts in the wake of last year's approval of SB 1070 which is designed to give police more power to detain illegal immigrants. They argued that new moves in this direction would throw new barriers in the path of economic development.

Pearce ignored the plea.

"I stand on the side of citizens, not a bunch of businessmen who wrote us a letter," he said.

Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, however, specifically cited his copy of that letter in voting against the bills. At the very least, he said, the fight over illegal immigration has become "a distraction" from more important issues including the budget, crime and health care.

"It's something that people don't want us to be focusing on," he said.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, also cited business opposition in saying she could not support the measure which would have required hospitals to make an effort to determine whether their patients have a right to be in this country. SB 1405 also would have mandated that hospital officials call federal immigration authorities when patients could not produce documents.

Barto said that placed an unnecessary burden on the hospitals.

Pearce rejected that contention.

"Is it really that hard to pick up a phone and make a call?" he asked. He also took a slap at hospitals and other foes, saying they do not care about the impact of illegal immigrants "as long as they get their money."

"I don't know how much more the taxpayer can bear," he said.

The decision by senators to sideline the bills came without the help of Gov. Jan Brewer, who said she was aware of the letter from the business leaders. But the governor earlier Thursday refused to ask legislators to put a brake on these measures.

"I believe that illegal immigration is an important subject to the populace in Arizona," she said. "It's something that needs probably to be further addressed."

And the governor sidestepped questions of whether these bills were the answer to the problem.

"I don't know," she said. "I have not looked at them. I have not seen them."

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