After an opponent of a Republican proposal to outlaw sanctuary cities in Arizona said the measure was “racist,” the GOP chairman of the panel shut down his testimony, sparking a demonstration by other critics that prompted a halt to the proceedings until state troopers arrived to remove them.
“There are rules in this committee, there’s decorum that’s expected,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.
The incident was sparked when Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist for Living United for Change Arizona, was testifying on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1007, which would amend the state constitution to outlaw sanctuary cities and require collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.
Critics have argued the constitutional provisions are too broad and require local police cooperate with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the arrest of immigrants.
SCR 1007 sponsor Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, told the committee Thursday that sanctuary cities are “a haven” for drug cartels, and the measures in SCR1007 are necessary.
“Trying to ignore these immigration laws allows these criminal elements to operate without as much fear of detectment (sic),” she said.
‘There’s nothing racist about anybody up here’
During his testimony, Polanco compared Allen’s proposal to the infamous SB1070, the state’s immigration enforcement law that was largely deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and sparked international boycotts of Arizona.
“SCR1007… is not only a return to the racism, divisiveness and hate of SB1070 – ” Polanco said.
Farnsworth interrupted him: “I’m going to caution you on the vitriol. There’s nothing racist about anybody up here. I’m going to caution you. Testify, but you don’t need to be vitriolic.”
Polanco continued. He the portion of SB1070 that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld already bans sanctuary jurisdictions in the state, and that SCR1007 would “bolster the remnants of the law and double down on its worst aspects.”
Polanco told the committee he is the son of Mexican immigrants and grew up in Phoenix. His uncle, Angel, had overstayed his visa and helped raise him.
“SB1070 ripped my family apart,” Polanco told the committee. “I implore the members of this committee… to reject this racist, divisive and hateful legislation.”
Farnsworth immediately interjected, “OK, you’re done.”
Polanco protested that he was being silenced, and Farnsworth banged the gavel several times and ordered the Senate’s sergeant at arms to escort Polanco away from the podium.
That sparked outrage from other LUCHA members in the audience. One man yelled out that Farnsworth was a racist.
“One more and I’m going to clear this entire room,” he ordered the crowd.
Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change Arizona, walked up to the podium and requested to speak, but Farnsworth spoke over her..
“We’re done,” he told her.
Sen. Rick Gray, the committee’s vice-chairman, called for a vote on the measure, effectively ending testimony.
Gomez, who had registered to testify on SCR1007, spoke up: “This is the people’s house, and you are not allowing us to speak right now.”
LUCHA members began loudly chanting, “Let the people speak! Let the people speak!”
Farnsworth briefly recessed the meeting, and senators and the audience sat mostly in silence.
When the meeting resumed, Gray moved for committee members to vote on SCR1007.
Gomez then led a call-and-repeat chant “Whose house?” she said. “Our house! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” came the response.
Farnsworth again recessed the meeting. Department of Public Safety officers arrived, and Farnsworth pointed out the people in the room he wanted removed.
Roughly 10 people were escorted out. Farnsworth continued with the meeting.
The effort to ban ‘sanctuary cities’
The Republican-led efforts at the state legislature to pass bans on so-called sanctuary cities, which also include Rep. Jay Lawrence’s House Bill 2095 and Rep. Bret Robert’s House Bill 2598, are a response to efforts like the Tucson Families Free and Together. That was a ballot measure rejected by voters in November that sought to make Tucson the state’s first sanctuary city.
There is no federal legal definition for sanctuary jurisdiction. No Arizona law defines it, either.
In an interview with Arizona Mirror, Gomez said SCR1007 is about more than sanctuary cities. She said she wanted to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the impact on people’s families that comes from heightened immigration enforcement.
“The reality is Arizona lost over $900 million because of SB1070, everyday people’s lives were impacted,” she said. “The constituents were impacted by these hateful bills.(HCR1007) not only strengthens SB1070, this bill is more visceral than SB1070.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HCR1007 on a party-line vote of 4-3, with Republican senators in favor and Democrats opposed.
“I’m sad to hear the areas I represent being portrayed as a warzone,” Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said.
Her district includes parts of Tucson and border cities like Nogales, and she told colleagues to consider how SCR1007 could harm the state’s image to potential business investors.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said SCR1007 would continue to create divisiveness in Arizona, similar to what was seen 10 years ago after SB1070.
Before voting for SCR1007, Gray, a Republican from Sun City, said voters should have a chance to consider the constitutional ban.
Farnsworth said the bill doesn’t create any “additional standards” and called the opposition to the resolution “political chicanery.”
But Gomez said the group will continue pushing back against proposals like SCR1007.
“We will be back, they should count on it,” she said.