Legislative Flurry Targets Benefits for Immigrants

Elvia Díaz, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Mar. 30

Bernarda Zavala spends four hours a day in a Phoenix classroom learning English, science and math so she can help her three school-age children with their homework.

But the lessons soon could end for Zavala, an undocumented immigrant. House Bill 2030 would ban government funding for the course and other programs that help immigrants adjust to life in Arizona.

The measure is part of a flurry of immigration-related bills moving rapidly through the Legislature as lawmakers react to a public outcry over illegal border crossers. Other bills would deny undocumented immigrants public housing, a college education, publicly funded child care and utility assistance, among other benefits.

“Legislators are strengthened and embolden by Proposition 200,” said Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University political scientist and pollster. “They are on a roll because immigration is a growing concern in Arizona.”

The goal of HB 2030 is to build on Proposition 200, the anti-illegal immigration initiative approved by Arizona voters in November, by denying a greater number of benefits to undocumented immigrants. The purpose is not only to save the state money but to discourage such immigrants from settling in the state.

In addition to HB 2030, the House has approved legislation banning government-sponsored day-labor centers and forcing immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition to attend college. On Thursday, a Senate panel will consider the day centers and a proposal to build a prison in Mexico for undocumented immigrants caught in Arizona.

The House also endorsed a measure denying bail to immigrants who commit serious crimes and a referendum that could allow voters to declare English as the state’s official language. Senators are expected to vote on those measures in the next few days.

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Unable to block the bills, opponents are turning to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. But it is uncertain what she will do if the measures reach her desk. She faces re-election next year, and even some of her supporters say the anti-illegal immigration sentiment could be used to unseat her.

“She’ll have to step up and veto those bills,” said Luis Ibarra, head of the non-profit Friendly House, which provides social services. “But we will have to help her because she’ll be attacked politically.”

Napolitano has a policy of not commenting on pending legislation, and she has declined to say whether she would veto the immigration bills.

But she, too, has made illegal immigration a high-profile issue by calling on Washington to do more to protect the Arizona border and urging Mexico to do its part to keep workers there.

Last week, Napolitano billed Uncle Sam $196.6 million to cover what the state spends on incarcerating undocumented immigrants. It’s the second time this year she has asked the federal government to help Arizona out.

“There is an understandable frustration among Arizonans with the lack of control of the border,” Napolitano said.

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