Top Dem: Jay Lawrence refugee comments ‘shocking and mean-spirited’

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez discusses the agenda of legislative Democrats at a Capitol press conference on Jan. 13, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

In response to the Arizona Mirror’s exclusive report on audio of Republican state Rep. Jay Lawrence telling a conservative audience that he is bigoted against refugee communities, the top Democrat in the Arizona House of Representatives has condemned her colleague.

“No member of this House should be ok with being considered a bigot or supporting bigotry against refugees who are fleeing violence and oppression,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. “Representative Lawrence’s comments weren’t just shocking and mean-spirited, they were wrong on the facts.”

While Lawrence said that he opposes resettling any refugees in Arizona because they “will take from us, they will make for lower wages for us, they will make for more expense in our schools, more expense in our emergency rooms,” Fernandez cited research that shows refugees not only quickly become self-sufficient, but they have entrepreneurship rates that outpace both non-refugee immigrants and the U.S.-born population.

“Our caucus is proud that Arizona is a welcoming state for refugees and strongly condemn Representative Lawrence’s statements,” Fernandez added.

Lawrence told a tea party group in Fountain Hills that he wants to block all refugees from Arizona, even though Gov. Doug Ducey recently announced that the state would welcome refugees.

“I will do all I can, as a legislator, to not accept a refugee population in the state of Arizona,” the third-term Republican from Scottsdale said. “Call me a bigot, whatever you want, I just think it’s best for the state of Arizona.”

In 2019, Lawrence voted for a non-binding resolution titled “Supporting Refugees in the State of Arizona.” Every member of the state House voted for the measure.

Jim Small
Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.