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The unconstitutional, anti-immigrant ballot referral is worse than you think

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The unconstitutional, anti-immigrant ballot referral is worse than you think

Jun 06, 2024 | 6:59 pm ET
By Victoria Lopez
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The unconstitutional, anti-immigrant ballot referral is worse than you think
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A family gets out of a Customs and Border Protection van at the Casa Alitas shelter in Tucson, where they will wait to travel ot other parts of the country. (Photo by Lillie Boudreaux?Cronkite News)

I’ll never forget the images of children packed into cages with only a foil emergency blanket for comfort, or the fallout from the near impossibility of reuniting children with their parents due to the government’s poor record-keeping. A horrific immigration policy initiated under the Trump administration ordered immigration officials to separate thousands of children from their parents and send them to detention centers grossly inadequate for their needs, without telling parents if or when they would see their children again.

Politicians in Arizona have opened the door on these and other unconstitutional and immoral policies by passing House Concurrent Resolution 2060. They are now asking voters to approve the ballot referral without addressing an exhaustive list of unanswered questions — from law enforcement, faith leaders, business leaders, and educators to name a few — regarding the referral’s budget, legal merit, and impact on communities.

Arizona voters will decide the fate of the Texas-style ‘Secure Border Act’ in November

HCR2060 would allow state law enforcement officials to arrest, detain, search, incarcerate, and deport people suspected of entering Arizona outside of a port of entry. The law upends decades of U.S. immigration and asylum law, and is an invitation for racial profiling. It would affect citizens, immigrants with lawful status, Dreamers, and mixed-status families, along with suspected undocumented immigrants, and subject them to detention and potentially deportation without the due process required under federal law.

Worse, the law would designate Arizona state prisons and county jails as immigrant detention centers. Arizona’s prison system has routinely failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care, putting incarcerated people in devastating conditions. Even after a decade-long court battle to remedy this issue, Arizona’s prison system was recently found to be noncompliant with court orders in prison condition class action.

These facilities are ill-equipped to care for adults, much less children, asylum-seekers fleeing violence, or immigrants with medical needs. Even the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry admits that it is not operationally or fiscally equipped to do what HCR 2060 would require.

The proposal is alarmingly silent on the matter of immigrant children who may be traveling with a parent or adult caregiver. By law, children cannot be detained in state prisons or county jails in Arizona, which means that in cases where families with minor children are arrested, the state would have to separate children from their parents or caregivers for detention or deportation.

Will Arizona violate its own law and put children in adult facilities that have long standing issues including poor staffing, underfunding, and a history of abuse and medical neglect? Or will Arizona rip those children from their loved ones and inflict that trauma upon them instead? Both scenarios are intolerable.

HCR 2060 comes at a high moral and financial cost to Arizonans. Federal immigration systems wield enormous power, resources, and infrastructure. They are also deeply flawed, and often violate the civil and human rights of migrants. Under HCR 2060, Arizona would take on this burden directly, placing huge pressure on taxpayers, law enforcement, and the carceral system.

A similar law in Texas has cost the state’s taxpayers some $10 billion in its first two years. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee issued a report on the fiscal cost only weeks ago, with legislative analysts estimating HCR 2060 could cost Arizona taxpayers up to $41 million annually.  Which state priorities would fall by the wayside to cover these costs? Do we lose funding for our already hamstrung schools? There is already so little left to trim, but HCR 2060 would force further cuts.

HCR 2060 would split up families and put children in dangerous situations while making the state and taxpayers financially, legally, and morally liable. The ballot referral is a dangerous catch-all that would force Arizona to grapple with enormous unknowns — some of which could look very much like our state and country’s darkest days, from SB1070 and racial profiling under former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to the Trump-era family separation crisis. Arizona still hasn’t recovered its reputation from the notorious ‘show me your papers’ law, and some legislators have not learned their lesson.

Arizona communities deserve better than what politicians have put on the table. We need humane, balanced, and thoughtful solutions that respect the rights of migrants and communities of color alike, not the cruel and reckless proposal that was forced onto the ballot to embolden an anti-immigrant agenda.