An Arizona House panel voted on Thursday to deny parole, probation or any type of early release to criminals who were in the United States illegally when they committed a crime.
In a 5-3 vote the panel approved SB 1377, which makes a judge impose at least the “presumptive” sentence for a crime and denies the person any chance to argue for a more lenient sentence. The bill adds on to a current Arizona state law that permits judges to consider various factors – including immigration status – in determining how long of a sentence to impose.
The measure was passed following an emotional testimony by Steve Ronnebeck, whose son Grant was shot to death by an undocumented immigrant while working the graveyard shift at a convenience store. The man who shot his son had been convicted of burglary in 2012 and was placed on probation.
Ronnebeck said the man who shot his son had been out on a $10,000 immigration bond for more than 470 days.
Despite arguments from several Democrats that the bill improperly targeted undocumented immigrants, they were overruled by Republican legislators who called it a “reasonable policy” to consider immigration status when deciding on parole.
“People who are here illegally are already breaking the law,” Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
The approval by the House of SB 1377 comes less than a month after Arizona’s Senate sent it to them.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsored a bill that would essentially make it impossible for immigrants in the country illegally to receive any leniency in the courts when they commit serious crimes. The proposal originally would have repealed a law letting state corrections officials release prisoners to federal authorities after serving half their sentences, but an amendment left that law in place.
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.
"It's a good first step in the right direction of protecting families like his," Smith said, referring to the victim's father, who was in attendance for the vote.