Arizona lawmakers are debating a ballot measure that would allow local police to make cross-border arrests

PHOENIX (AP) — Under a proposal discussed Tuesday before a final vote by lawmakers, immigration enforcement would cut right in on immigration enforcement by making it a state crime to cross the Arizona-Mexico border anywhere other than the Arizona-Mexico border. If approved, voters will decide in November whether the measure will become law.

The measure, slated for a vote in the Arizona House, would allow state and local police to arrest people who cross the border without a warrant. It would also empower state judges to order criminals to return to their home countries.

Citing concerns about security and potential disruptions, House Republicans closed access to the chamber’s upper gallery before Tuesday’s session began. The move immediately drew criticism from Democrats, who demanded that the gallery be reopened.

“The public gallery should be open to the public. This is the people’s home,” said state representative Annalize Ortiz.

Supporters of the bill say it’s necessary to ensure security along the state’s southern border and give Arizona voters a chance to decide the issue for themselves.

“We need this bill and we need to get it done,” said state Rep. John Gillette, a Republican.

Opponents say the law is unconstitutional, leads to racial profiling, separates children from their parents and creates millions of dollars in additional custodial costs.

“This is not a solution. This is election-year politics,” said Democratic Rep. Mariana Sandoval.

The proposal is similar to a Texas law that has been put on hold while it is challenged by a federal appeals court. The The Arizona Senate approved the proposal 16-13 in a party-line vote. If it passes the House, the plan would bypass Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs Banned a similar scheme In early March, it will be sent to the November 5 ballot instead.

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Supporters of the measure say it is needed because the federal government has not done enough to stop people crossing Arizona’s vast, porous Mexico border illegally, while federal law already bars unauthorized entry by immigrants into the United States. They also said some who enter Arizona without authorization commit identity theft and take advantage of public benefits.

Opponents say the proposal would inevitably lead to racial profiling by police and saddle the state with new costs from law enforcement agencies inexperienced in immigration law, as well as hurt Arizona’s reputation in the business world.

Supporters of the proposed ballot measure waved off concerns about racial profiling, saying local authorities would have to develop more probable cause to arrest those entering Arizona outside ports of entry.

Supporters say the measure focuses only on the state’s border region and — unlike Arizona’s landmark 2010 immigration law — doesn’t target people across the state. Opponents point out that the proposal has no geographic limits on where within the state it can be implemented.

The ballot proposal includes other provisions not included in the Texas measure and not directly related to immigration. These include making it a felony to sell fentanyl that results in a person’s death, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and requiring state agencies that administer benefit programs to use a federal database to verify a noncitizen’s eligibility for benefits.

Warning of potential legal costs, opponents point to Arizona’s 2005 immigrant smuggling ban, when Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio used 20 large-scale traffic patrols targeting immigrants. This led to the 2013 racial profiling ruling and taxpayer-funded legal and compliance costs now totaling $265 million and It is expected to reach 314 million dollars By July 2025.

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Under the current proposal, a first-time conviction of the cross-border provision would carry a prison sentence of up to six months. Although courts have the power to dismiss cases if those arrested agree to return home, state judges can order people to return to their home countries after serving prison terms.

If local or county law enforcement agencies do not have enough space to house them, the state Department of Corrections would be required to house persons charged or convicted under this measure.

The proposal includes exemptions for people who have been granted lawful presence status or asylum by the federal government.

The provision allowing the arrest of border crossers between ports does not take effect until Texas law or similar laws from other states have been in effect for 60 days.

This isn’t the first time Republican lawmakers in Arizona have tried to criminalize undocumented immigrants.

When passing an immigration bill in 2010, the Arizona Legislature considered expanding the state’s trespass law to criminalize the presence of immigrants and impose criminal penalties. But the trespass language was removed and replaced with a requirement that authorities question people’s immigration status if they are believed to be in the country illegally while implementing other laws.

Despite critics’ racial profiling concerns, the questioning requirement was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, but courts barred enforcement of other sections of the law.

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