Feathered Bastard

Kyrsten Sinema's Drop House Bill, and Steve Gallardo's Rebuttal

Arizona's pro-immigrant community is ticked at one if its own: uber-lefty state Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has in the past marched with the Reverend Al Sharpton in protest of Senate Bill 1070, and normally opposes the Republinuts in the state legislature on most of their nefarious doings.

Such liberal bona fides aside, Sinema, of course, is a politician, and reputedly longs to run for Congress one day. And since, for her, running for Congress will likely mean running in a competitive district, Sinema will have to be able to prove to voters that she's been "tough on the border," or so she no doubt calculates.

How else to explain her occasional stabs into what is normally nativist territory; i.e., regulating the "illegals"? Last year, when she was still in the state House, it was with HB 2673, which tinkered, almost imperceptibly, with a law regarding human trafficking. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by then Republican state Senator Jonathan Paton, ultimately became law.

When the House version passed through committee, Sinema touted her success via press release:

"House Bill 2673, sponsored by Assistant House Democratic Leader Kyrsten Sinema, eliminates a clause in Arizona law that requires police to prove that the trafficked individual be obtained `for transport' to qualify as being trafficked for sex or labor. The bill also aids prosecutors to convict traffickers."

"`This bill gives law enforcement a greater ability to fight heinous crimes like human trafficking for sex or slave labor,' Sinema said. `It's a simple fix that makes a huge difference for public safety in our neighborhoods.'"

It was deja vu all over again in the state Senate this week, as Sinema appeared before state Senator Sylvia Allen's "border security" committee to argue on behalf of SB 1225, which bumps up forgery from a class four felony to a class three felony if the forged docs are used in relation to a "drop house."

The sentencing range for a class four felony is one to 3.75 years. The sentencing range for a class three felony is two to 8.75 years.

May not seem like a big deal at first blush, but as Three Sonorans blogger David Abie Morales has noted, such laws can and have been applied to people who are not actually engaged in "smuggling." Best example of this is former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' interpretation of the anti-coyote statute to apply to those conspiring to "self-smuggle" themselves into the country.

Morales observes that under state law, "If you have undocumented persons living with you, or if you are giving them a ride to the store, or picking them up because they are dying in the middle of the desert, you are now a felon!"

Sinema's the only Democrat sponsoring her bill. All of the other sponsors and co-sponsors are Republicans such as state Senator Ron Gould, champion of gutting the 14th Amendment, Senators Linda Gray, Nancy Barto and others. 

The Republicans on Allen's committee welcomed and supported Sinema's bill, which eventually received a do-pass recommendation from the majority. Only Democrat Steve Gallardo voted "no."

Indeed, Senator Gallardo gave Sinema some grief as she stood before the committee, wondering why Sinema didn't want to bump up punishment for the crime even more?

"Why not kick it up even higher?" Gallardo asked. "Let's make it a class two. If we're gonna do it, let's do it."

Sinema earnestly responded that class two felonies were things like rape and manslaughter, so it wouldn't be appropriate to put this forgery crime in that category.

Gallardo kept after Sinema with this line, arguing that rapes, assaults and murders do happen in drop houses, so an elevation to a class two would be appropriate. After a little more sparring, Gallardo came clean on his real objection to the bill.

"I and many other members at the legislature have taken the stance that immigration bills really need to be put on hold for now," Gallardo said. "Our focus should be the budget. Let's focus on the economy, let's focus on jobs, let's focus on the deficit. That should be our focus."

Chairwoman Allen jumped to Sinema's defense, saying that work on the budget and a jobs bill was going on, and that her committee's work didn't interfere with that. 

Sinema chimed in that we should all be able to agree -- regardless of party -- that "violent criminal cartels are bad for our society."

Senator Al Melvin, a notorious nativist and lick-spittle lackey to state Senate President Russell Pearce, similarly defended Sinema and thanked her for bringing the bill before the committee. Then he spouted the bogus stat that Arizona's "porous border" with Mexico is costing the state $2 billion to $3 billion a year in costs related to "illegal aliens."

Gallardo asked Melvin for the source for this fantastic statistic. Not surprisingly, Melvin cited the hate group FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

After the vote, Sinema's staff issued a press release quoting Sinema, thus:

"We must secure our borders...Human trafficking of children happens in drop houses in our neighborhoods every day. We need to get tough on real immigration solutions and we need to give law enforcement the real tools they need to keep our families safe. I think we can all agree that criminal cartels should not be allowed to operate in our cities."

I wouldn't rob Sinema of any Congressional ambitions she has, and the effect of SB 1225 seems debatable at best. But when she panders to the wingnut crowd, she gives some legitimacy to bigoted lunatics such as Melvin and Pearce. 

Sinema likes to tout ways of cooperating with the Republiloons in the legislature. I would argue that you cannot cooperate with such an insidious regime. 

Instead, Sinema's mantra should be more Churchillian. Her stance toward to the GOPers should be, "War all the time." At least until the Arizona Republican Party is no longer run by a pack of mean-spirited, delusional wackos.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons