Friday, May 26, 2006

Arizona lawmakers have approved legislation that would criminalize the presence of illegal aliens and seeks to cut off job opportunities that attract illegal border crossers.

“The House and Senate may not get anything done. So we have an obligation to respond, since this is not just a national border [that’s being compromised], it’s the Arizona border,” said state Rep. Russell Pearce, lead sponsor of the bill that passed the Legislature Thursday.

The bill, which calls for revoking business licenses for repeatedly hiring known illegal aliens and bars illegals from some state services including child care and adult education, has passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature, but is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat,

Mrs. Napolitano earlier vetoed a bill that would have expanded the state’s trespassing statutes to allow the arrest of illegal aliens who wind up there. She has vowed to veto any further measures that would have this same effect.

“Shame on her if she does veto it,” said Mr. Pearce yesterday, adding it is the first time the Legislature has passed a tough immigration-reform law and provided money to enforce it.

“People are fed up, and this would take jobs away from illegals and the free stuff they are now getting.”

The bill calls for $160 million to crack down on illegal aliens sneaking into the United States through Arizona, the nation’s busiest illegal-entry point.

It is estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 illegal aliens are in Arizona. But Mr. Pearce said those estimates are two years old, and he thinks the total now is between 600,000 and 1 million.

“We know between 5,000 and 10,000 a night are coming across our border. If this is not an invasion, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Under the bill, a first offense for someone in Arizona illegally would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison. Subsequent offenses would be felonies, carrying sentences of at least three years in prison.

Police could only enforce the pending law by first approaching a person about another offense, such as a traffic violation.

Passage of the Arizona legislation comes as the U.S. Congress wrestles with immigration reform. On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill that would increase border security and offer most illegal aliens a chance for U.S. citizenship. But the bill is much weaker than one the House passed last year, and the two must be reconciled.

Mr. Pearce, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said “in general, federal law takes precedence over state law.”

Even so, he said, states can enact tougher penalties than those called for under a similar federal statute, unless something in the federal law pre-empts states from taking such action.

Mrs. Napolitano vetoed legislation last year that would have eliminated child care and adult education for illegal aliens and also would have prevented them from going to college or getting cheaper tuitions, said Michael Brewer, Arizona legislative council.

Mr. Pearce acknowledges some local police departments say they don’t want the extra duties, but added that the bill does call for $55 million in grants to help local law-enforcement agencies to compensate for their additional responsibilities.

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