GOP lawmaker silences activists for calling anti-immigrant proposal 'racist'

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Arizona Republicans are attempting to amend their state constitution to force local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

Immigration advocates speaking out against an anti-immigrant constitutional amendment being considered in Arizona were silenced Thursday by the Republican majority in the state legislature, after the Senate president became upset that they had called the proposal "racist."

Hugo Polanco, speaking on behalf of the immigrant-rights group Living United for Change in Arizona, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that passage of the proposal would bring "a return to the racism, divisiveness, and hate of SB 1070," the infamous (and mostly unconstitutional) 2010 state law targeting undocumented immigrants.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eddie Farnsworth, who also serves as chair of the committee, interrupted him.

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"I'm going to caution you on the vitriol," he said. "You can testify, but there's nothing racist about anybody up here … You don't need to be vitriolic."

When Polanco asked the committee "on behalf of families like mine, to reject this racist, divisive, and hateful legislation," Farnsworth banged his gavel, informed him he was finished, and threatened to have him removed.

The group's executive director, Alejandra Gomez, rose to speak next. Farnsworth, however, informed her, "We're done," and moved to report the amendment, which ultimately passed on a party-line 4-3 vote.

After activists chanted, "Kill the bill!" Farnsworth dispatched state troopers to eject them.

The topic of discussion was Concurrent Resolution 1007, which would propose a state constitutional amendment. The proposed text reads, "A county, city, or town of this state may not limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws or state related immigration laws."

It would enshrine in the state's constitution an existing prohibition on "sanctuary cities," where local governments opt not to coordinate with or enforce immigration laws for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That ban was part of SB 10170, which also included provisions to require law enforcement to check immigration status during any "lawful stop, detention or arrest," and to punish those who shelter or hire undocumented immigrants.

Fearing widespread racial and ethnic profiling after that law's initial enactment, critics organized economic boycotts of Arizona and many immigrant families left the state entirely.

Most of those other provisions were struck down as unconstitutional in 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the sanctuary cities section remains on the books.

Farnsworth and Living United for Change in Arizona did not immediately respond to inquires about the censorship.

Randy Perez, who serves as democracy director for Living United for Change in Arizona, tweeted Thursday, "We will be BACK next Wednesday for our LUCHA Lobby Day and I hope folks can join us! We'll be fighting back on bad legislation like SCR1007 and advocating for our People's Agenda."

The amendment now moves onto the full Senate. A House version is also working its way through the process. If both GOP-controlled chambers give majority support to the proposals, it would go straight to the voters.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.