Controversial immigration measure goes on Arizona ballots alongside Biden-Trump contest

PHOENIX — Arizona’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill Tuesday to send a controversial immigration policy to voters this November, putting the border on the ballot alongside President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — with uncertain consequences for the presidential race and other fall campaigns.

Republicans hope it will galvanize conservative turnout in November. But Democrats’ characterization of the bill as the resurrection of controversial 2010 anti-illegal immigration legislation may push Latino turnout toward Democrats in the general election, too.

HCR 2060, or the “Secure The Border Act,” will let Arizonans decide if the state should beef up the use of E-Verify, a federal database for checking employment eligibility; require harsher penalties for fentanyl dealers; and, in its most contentious provision, give state and local law enforcement the ability to detain and deport undocumented border crossers, despite court rulings saying that power belongs to the federal government.

GOP legislators are using a provision allowing them to bypass Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who opposes the policy and vetoed similar legislation in March, and put the policy in front of voters. In a statement Tuesday, Hobbs rooted her opposition in both the economic impact of new E-Verify requirements and the potential for racial profiling.

Business leaders, border law enforcement, and bipartisan local leaders throughout the state who oppose this bill know it will not make us safer, instead it will demonize our communities and lead to racial profiling,” Hobbs said after the legislation passed the Arizona state Senate.

The measure is all but guaranteed to encounter legal challenges if Arizona voters pass it this fall. The measure was inspired by a Texas law, which has been stalled in the courts. HCR 2060’s state and local law enforcement powers cannot go into effect until at least 60 days after Texas’ law is upheld.

In addition to the practical effects of the policy, the measure puts one of voters’ key issues on the campaign trail in Arizona in a new way, alongside candidates and their platforms. Immigration was virtually tied with inflation and cost of living among the top issues in the April NBC News national poll, continuing a recent trend. On Tuesday, Biden signed an executive order temporarily stopping asylum requests at the southern border, as he faces pressure from voters and from Trump on the issue.

Republican state Rep. Alex Kolodin, a vocal advocate of the measure in the state House, said immigration is “something that my constituents are very passionate about,” but, he added, “I think my constituents will probably turn out anyway.”

Democratic state Sen. Flavio Bravo, who represents one of Arizona’s most racially diverse districts, is cynical about Republican intentions putting forward HCR 2060.

“This new slate of Republicans just know that it’s going to help their polling,” Bravo said.

“I don’t believe that they’re anti-immigrant, I don’t believe that they care much about this. They just want to wrap up the session quickly, throw something together, and pray for a win in November,” said Bravo, a grandson of a Mexican copper miner.

Opponents of HCR 2060 have already begun mobilizing against it.

“We are going to be knocking on community’s doors, reminding them to vote, letting them know who is standing with us and who is not,” said Alejandra Gomez, the executive director of the grassroots civil rights organization Living United For Change In Arizona, commonly known as LUCHA.

“LUCHA will be in eight counties — Maricopa County, Pima County, and rural communities” campaigning against the measure, Gomez vowed. In addition to door-knocking and phone banking in English and Spanish, the organization distributes its own newspaper, the “LUCHA Times,” to reach older Arizonans while spreading its message through social media to muster youth support.

While conventional wisdom might suggest an immigration ballot referral would juice Republican turnout, Brian Murray, an Arizona GOP political strategist, says who exactly stands to benefit the most is murky five months from Election Day.

“I think there’s an opportunity with soft Republican women to use this as a messaging device to keep them in the Republican camp,” Murray said. But he also said he thinks “it’s an opportunity for LUCHA and some of the grassroots Democrat organizations to really get out there and organize their vote amongst voters who are likely not to vote before.”

Jenny Valdovinos, 22, is a Latina graphic designer from Phoenix who ventured to the state capitol in May to protest HCR 2060 as it was passing through the legislature.

“I’m Mexican American, so I know people who have been affected by stuff like this, and it’s disgusting,” Valdovinos said, referring back to a 2010 law which led to racial profiling in the state.

Valdovinos thinks that the ballot measure will get young Latinos like herself to the polls in November. “More and more young people are getting involved, a lot of younger progressive people,” she said. “We just need to spread the word.”

She also plans to vote in favor of abortion rights should a citizen-backed initiative, the Arizona For Abortion Access Act, make it onto the ballot. But when it comes to the top of the ticket, Valdovinos says she doesn’t know who she’ll support.

“Biden didn’t really do much or live up to as much as he was saying,” said Valdovinos, who voted for the president in her first eligible election in 2020.

“He hasn’t been saying or doing much about Palestine,” she said as one reason that Biden has lost his luster in her eyes, along with the president’s greenlighting of a sprawling oil drilling project in Alaska.

GOP Senate candidate Kari Lake, the likely Republican nominee in one of the nation’s biggest battleground races, cheered on the passage of HCR 2060. “Arizonans are crying out for common sense security measures,” Lake said in a statement to NBC News. “I am encouraged that Arizona Republican state legislators are doing their best to deliver it — even if they have to go around Hobbs’ veto to do it,” Lake added.

Lake’s competitor, Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego, issued his own statement harkening back to Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law, SB 1070.

“Politicians are refusing to address our border crisis and dragging us backwards to a horrible time,” Gallego said in a statement to NBC News, adding: “In order to truly secure our border and keep Arizonans safe, we need to hire more border patrol agents, deliver crucial resources to our frontline border communities, and fix our broken asylum system. This bill does none of that.”

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