Republican Hispanic leader denounces Arizona GOP’s immigration bill | Phoenix New Times
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Republican Hispanic leader denounces Arizona GOP’s immigration bill

As Republican lawmakers push a ballot measure, they fast-tracked a controversial immigration bill to Gov. Katie Hobbs.
Mónica Villalobos, CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke against an effort by Republican lawmakers to widen use of E-Verify during a press conference on Monday.
Mónica Villalobos, CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke against an effort by Republican lawmakers to widen use of E-Verify during a press conference on Monday. TJ L'Heureux
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It’s déjà vu for Latino business leaders, who warn that a controversial new effort by Republicans to target undocumented immigrants would weaken Arizona’s economy — just as an infamous 2010 “show me your papers” law brought an economic blow and national shame to the state.

Republicans in the Arizona State Legislature have been working to put a measure on the November ballot that would require local governments to check a person’s immigration status before they could access public health care, housing assistance or employment programs.

House Concurrent Resolution 2060 is being guided through the Capitol’s chambers by House Speaker Ben Toma, the powerful Republican lawmaker running for a Valley congressional seat in a crowded, difficult race. It awaits a vote in the Senate after the House approved the bill on Feb. 22 in a 31-28 vote. If voters approve it in November, undocumented immigrants will be barred from obtaining many taxpayer-funded social benefits, starting in 2026.

Monica Villalobos, CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a registered Republican, predicted that the bill would weaken economic growth.

“Bad policies like these do not strengthen Arizona law. Instead, it restricts the ability of Arizona businesses to thrive, especially when we have a workforce shortage,” Villalobos said during a press conference Monday.

Toma, during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Feb. 19, said the bill is designed to make sure “Arizona taxpayers do not bear the financial burden of paying for the federal government’s failure to control illegal immigration at the border."

But the irony is that undocumented immigrants are Arizona taxpayers. The nonpartisan American Immigration Council found that, in 2021, undocumented immigrants in Arizona paid $647.9 million in state, local and federal taxes.

The bill would also require contract workers who are paid more than $600 a year to be cleared for employment through E-Verify, the system provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, which Villalobos said would create "burdensome red tape for all involved as we experience labor shortages."

While escalating the GOP's war on immigrants without permanent legal status, the measure would do nothing to step up border enforcement.

Republicans also are pushing two bills likely to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. House Bill 2821 and Senate Bill 1231 empower local law enforcement to enforce immigration policies, a responsibility that has long been reserved for the federal government. The House passed HB 2821 on Feb. 22; it now awaits action in the Senate. SB 1231 passed the Senate on Feb. 21. On Wednesday, the House suspended its rules and passed the bill 31-28, sending it to Hobbs.

“Every Arizonan is frustrated by the federal government’s failure to secure our border," Hobbs said in a Monday statement. "But passing job-killing, anti-business bills that demonize our communities is not the solution. Instead of securing our border, these bills will simply raise costs, hurt our farmers, put Arizona entrepreneurs out of business and destroy jobs for countless working-class Arizonans.”

The controversial immigration bills come as Republicans in Washington, D.C., have rejected a bipartisan Senate bill that would provide $20 billion in funding for the border. The bill died after former President Donald Trump asked Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to kill it so President Joe Biden wouldn’t look strong on border enforcement.

Hobbs said Toma’s bill was “meant to score political points.”
click to enlarge Hands and arms and bodies hold signs.
Democratic lawmakers held signs opposing HCR 2060, a bill they say would escalate the GOP's war on undocumented people, during a press conference on Monday.
TJ L'Heureux

Show me your papers, one more time

The recent bills have suddenly resurrected the story of SB 1070, a 2010 law that became synonymous with racial hatred of immigrants, made Arizona a laughingstock, sparked boycotts, led to heightened racial profiling, set off a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the state, stirred fear in Latino communities and unintentionally birthed a progressive grassroots movement that helped elect Democratic politicians statewide.

The bill’s sponsor, Russell Pearce, earned the “Best Death of a Racist” award in 2023 from Phoenix New Times.

It’s difficult to estimate the total economic impact the law had or track how many people and businesses decided to boycott the state. A 2010 study reported that Arizona’s economy lost at least $434 million in direct spending from conference cancellations in the first year alone. Libertarian think tank Cato Institute argued in 2012 that the law “caused significant economic harm.”

“States bear much of the cost of unauthorized immigration, but in Arizona’s rush to find a state solution, it damaged its own economy,” the Cato report said. It also made note of the law’s negative impact on the labor market, which hindered Arizona construction and farming.

Villalobos criticized the new Toma immigration bill as anti-business.

“This is a huge departure from the basic tenets of the Republican Party, which is business first and being able to secure a safe business environment that can thrive,” Villalobos told New Times. “It’s completely antithetical to the party’s position historically.”
click to enlarge Woman speaks at podium with two men looking on from behind.
Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA, rallied against HCR 2060 on Monday at the Arizona Capitol.
TJ L'Heureux

‘This is a great battle ahead’

Most Democrats see the bill as a weak political offering to the Republican Party's anti-immigrant base.

“I think this shows that our Republican colleagues are desperate to maintain power,” state Sen. Anna Hernandez, a Phoenix Democrat, told New Times. “But also, how fiscally irresponsible is something like this? For a party that preaches fiscal smartness, I think this is another example that they are not in tune with what being fiscally responsible for the entire state means.”

Several Latino business owners spoke at the Monday press conference, highlighting the fact that small businesses are the backbone of America and agreeing that the law would have a negative impact.

“For many years, Arizona had to navigate away from the dark days of SB 1070,” Villalobos said. “Painstakingly, Arizona has repaired its image as open for business.”

Living United for Change in Arizona, a political organization known colloquially as LUCHA, was created in the aftermath of SB 1070. It now sees itself as poised for a second battle over policies that bring harm to vulnerable community members in the name of fixing the immigration crisis.

LUCHA’s existence also is illustrative of the larger political organizing machine that was created after SB 1070. About half of the members of the Democrats’ caucus are Latino, and several of them cite SB 1070 as the moment they wanted to get involved in politics. With Democrats knocking on the door of majority control in both legislative chambers come November, the post-SB 1070 organizing machine may be able to capitalize on the controversial law as evidence for the need to vote.

Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA, said at the press conference that she was "deeply saddened" to watch the state relive the mistakes of SB 1070.

"I was here for the pain and the aftermath of our economy, of what the devastation was to our families," Gomez added. "But we are not the Arizona of 2010. This coalition is a powerful coalition."

Joe Garcia, executive director of community advocacy nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, said he's ready for the fight.

“This is a great battle ahead. We are hoping we can stop it before it becomes a war,” Garcia said. “A war not only on the Latino community and vulnerable populations, but also a war on Arizona’s economy."
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