PHOENIX—Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed what sponsors labeled a comprehensive border-security and immigration measure Tuesday, calling it not only “weak and ineffective” but saying it would have provided amnesty to companies that hire illegal entrants.
The move, which set a veto record for an Arizona governor, came as no surprise. Napolitano had previously vetoed some of the provisions sent to her individually.
But the veto provoked an angry reaction from Republican legislators, who said her action showed she is not really interested in stemming the flow of 5,000 to 10,000 people a day who cross the border illegally. Those lawmakers are considering putting at least some parts of the measure on the fall ballot and bypassing the governor.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who put much of the plan together, called Napolitano “the best friend illegal aliens have.” And Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, said the veto “shows the governor does not want to do anything about illegal immigration.”
Napolitano, however, noted that she told lawmakers in a prior veto that it is unconstitutional to allow people who are in this country in violation of federal law to be arrested and prosecuted under state law as trespassers. Her staffers also distributed a list of police departments and county attorneys that urged her to veto the measure.
The governor, in her two-page veto message, opened up a new front in the war of words with lawmakers.
She said a provision that backers said would punish companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants was not only toothless but actually amounted to amnesty.
“All the employer must do to claim this amnesty is fire the illegal worker within 10 days of receiving a cease-and-desist order from the attorney general,” Napolitano wrote. “Under this bill, an employer that simply complies with the order upon receipt pays no fine, risks no jail time and can continue with normal business operations as if nothing has happened.”
Senate President Ken Bennett said that was patently false.
He said companies that hire illegal immigrants “under the table” and don’t collect taxes are subject to fines and even mandatory jail time. They could even lose their licenses to do business in Arizona.
“There’s not much more that you can do to a business than take away their right to operate,” he said. “Anyone, including the governor, who is saying that this is employer amnesty is hiding behind the facts and not telling the people of Arizona the real truth.”
Pearce said he would have preferred to do more. But he cited a section of federal law that limits the ability of states to impose civil or criminal penalties against companies that employ illegal immigrants.
The veto left supporters of the package wondering what to do next.
One option is to bypass the governor and put the measure on the November ballot. But Republican leaders conceded Tuesday that they hadn’t decided which of the bill’s many elements should be presented to voters.