PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Legislature made its latest foray into the immigration debate on Wednesday by giving initial approval to stiffer penalties for immigrants who break the law while in the country illegally, forbidding judges from giving them any leniency in the courts.
Arizona passed a series of immigration crackdowns last decade that culminated with the approval of SB 1070, which launched protests, lawsuits and national controversy with its provision requiring police to try and determine the immigration status of people during routine stops.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has largely avoided passing immigration proposals since SB 1070, although Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, has sponsored several measures in recent years that have gone nowhere.
Smith chairs the Senate committee that passed a pair of measures targeting immigration Wednesday. Smith said he sponsored the bills to ensure that everyone is following the letter of the law.
Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, was the only Latino on the committee and the only member to vote against both measures.
"We need to fight for the rights of every person good, bad or indifferent," Contreras said. "When we start classifying certain laws to do certain things to certain individuals, I can't stand for it."
The committee passed a measure requiring judges to sentence people to the fullest possible term in jail or prison for new crimes when they have already violated immigration laws.
Smith said the bill came in response to a case from last year in which an immigrant who entered the country illegally and was out on bail for a separate crime shot and killed a 21-year-old convenience store employee over a pack of cigarettes. His proposal is designed to ensure that people who already broke immigration laws are penalized if they violate state laws, Smith said.
Contreras said the measure could violate the Constitution's equal protection clause, but Smith countered that immigrants who are in the country illegally do not have equal protections under law.
"People who are not citizens of this country are not afforded the same rights as our citizens," Smith said. "You can like that or you can not like that. I don't care. That is the law."
Another bill by the Maricopa lawmaker would take state revenue grants from any municipality that enacts sanctuary-city policies benefiting immigrants. Such polices are already illegal in Arizona as a result of SB 1070, but Smith's bill adds penalties.
"All we are saying is, 'If you can't follow the law you aren't going to get paid,' " Smith said.
The measure defines a sanctuary city as any municipality that limits federal authorities from enforcing immigration laws and violates application requirements for public benefits that require proof of citizenship.
The state does not currently have any sanctuary cities, said Dale Wiebusch, who lobbies for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
Still, the measure could affect Phoenix if it enacts a city-issued ID program that would allow residents, including immigrants who have entered the country illegally, to receive banking services, report crimes and get a library card.
The Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee passed Senate Bill 1377 on a 5-1 vote and Senate Bill 1378 on a 4-1 vote with Sen. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, not voting on the second measure.
The proposals will now undergo a standard constitutional review before going to a Senate vote.