Advertisement

Pro-immigrant business leaders: GOP bills targeting migrants are ‘anti-business’

Chanen Construction CEO Steve Chanen joined other Arizona business leaders at the state Capitol on Mar. 19, 2024, to criticize a GOP priority proposal allowing the state to arrest and deport migrants. Republican lawmakers have vowed to send the bill to the governor, despite a version already having been vetoed. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

Arizona business leaders slammed a GOP bill allowing the state to arrest and deport migrants as “anti-business” and “bad for Arizona,” and called on lawmakers to defeat it. 

The Republican legislative majority has advanced several punitive immigration policies this year in a bid to appeal to voters, who, for the first time in five years, rank immigration as their top concern. A priority proposal from the party that would have made it a state crime to cross the state’s southern border anywhere but a port of entry and punished migrants with six months in jail was vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs earlier this month

In her veto letter, the Democrat cited criticism from the business community and immigrant advocates that the bill would have threatened the state’s economy and led to widespread racial profiling. But just a week after that rejection, Republican lawmakers vowed to pass the bill’s remaining mirrors, and floated the idea of sending it directly to the ballot to circumvent the governor’s veto pen.  

Opponents of the revived proposal on Tuesday reiterated previous criticisms, with business advocates deriding it as discriminatory and potentially debilitating for Arizona’s economy. 

Michael Deheeger, campaign director for the advocacy arm of the American Business Immigration Coalition, a pro-immigrant organization whose membership includes over a 1,000 CEOs, trade associations and business owners, warned that the measure would only result in unjust arrests. The decision for who to detain and investigate is left entirely up to local law enforcement, and while the proposal makes it illegal to cross the border between the ports of entry, it doesn’t specify that police officers have to witness that crossing. 

“This anti-immigrant, anti-business bill would be devastating to Arizona’s economy and communities,” Deheeger said. “It would create a climate of fear, deputizing local police and other officials to verify the immigration status of immigrants, and arrest and detain otherwise law-abiding immigrant workers as they drive to work, to church or take their children to school.” 

Steve Chanen, the president and CEO of Chanen Construction Company, a 68-year-old firm with roots in Arizona, said that anti-immigrant policies invariably have a negative effect on the construction industry. Federal studies estimated that as much as 25% of people employed in construction across the country in 2020 were foreign-born. And two-thirds of Hispanic workers, who make up about half of all workers in the industry, were born in another country. 

The construction industry is already struggling with a labor shortage, Chanen said, and pushing those who make up the bulk of the industry to friendlier states would only spell disaster for Arizona. 

“It’s going to worsen the crisis, not help the crisis,” he said. “It’s going to drive workers out of our state. It’s going to be bad for all Arizonans.” 

Local First Arizona CEO Kimber Lanning pointed out that Arizona’s labor force issues aren’t limited to the construction industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that there are just 71 Arizona workers available for every 100 jobs that are open. Cutting into that supply is the wrong move, and would only drive up inflation, Lanning warned. 

And, she added, the GOP proposal, which has been dubbed the “Arizona Border Invasion Act,” includes no money to pay for the demands it makes of local law enforcement agencies. That omission should concern voters, Lanning said, who would ultimately be left picking up the tab for implementation costs and legal challenges that may arise later.

“When you deputize our local law enforcement, that are already stretched very thin, how do we pay for that?” she asked. “When Arizona tries to take a federal issue into its own hands, the people of Arizona pay the price, whether emotionally or psychologically or economically. Our community deserves better.”

John Graham, CEO of Sunbelt Holdings, a real estate development and management company focused on the Southwest, urged state lawmakers to stop engaging in “election gamesmanship” and instead encourage Arizona’s federal delegation to reach a solution in Congress. 

A bipartisan border management measure stalled at the federal level earlier this year after former President Donald Trump convinced Republicans to block it so he could campaign on the issue. The fallout from that failure is already affecting Arizona border officials, who have begun sounding the alarm over a shortage of immigration judges and insufficient funding for the installation of port security equipment that would have been resolved by the federal proposal. 

Tom Kelly, who has more than 40 years of experience as a leader in the health care industry, including as the former head of Medicaid, added that immigrants are a crucial resource for the state as Arizona’s resident population ages. 

“We don’t have enough health care workers today in Arizona,” he said. “That shortage of health care workers without immigration reform is going to continue to increase. And if we introduce fear into this environment, we’re going to lose health care workers to other parts of the US.”

Kelly said as many as 1 out of every 8 nurses in Arizona were born in another country, and 1 out of every 4 home health aides are immigrants. 

But even that is insufficient to address the rapidly deepening rift between Arizona’s health care workers and patients. The Grand Canyon State is on track to have the largest nursing shortage in the country by 2025, with the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis projecting that the state will have 28,100 fewer nurses than needed to meet demand

Kelly said that Arizona urgently needs more immigrants to fill the gaps in the health care industry; dissuading them from contributing is not the right approach. 

While the American Business Immigration Coalition is mustering opposition to the measures, local business advocacy organizations, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, have remained on the sidelines.

Republicans recommit to ‘Arizona Border Invasion Act’

While business leaders convened to oppose the legislation, GOP lawmakers appeared undeterred by criticism on Tuesday, celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court decision that, in their view, bolstered the proposal. 

The Arizona act is a near-identical copy of a Texas version passed last year that also criminalizes border crossers. The U.S. Department of Justice took Texas to court over its law, arguing that it is blatantly unconstitutional and illegally usurps the federal government’s sole authority over immigration enforcement. The courts have consistently ruled that only the federal government has the power to implement immigration policies. More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court used that reasoning to strike down the majority of Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law, which allowed police officers to detain people during routine traffic stops to investigate citizenship status. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to block the Texas state crime law from taking effect while litigation in lower courts continues, as the federal government requested, prompting celebration from Arizona Republicans who saw it as an unofficial seal of approval. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow Texas’ S.B.4 to go into effect shows that the Governor’s veto was rash and hasty,” said Senate President Warren Petersen, in an emailed statement.  

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a clear and significant victory for the rule of law, and it inspires hope for us in Arizona who firmly seek to uphold our sovereignty and protect our citizens,” added Rep. Steve Montenegro, who sponsored one of the Arizona act’s mirrors in the House. 

But just hours later, a federal appeals court again blocked the law, at least until it rules on the merits of the constitutional challenge.

Montenegro called Hobbs’ reservations about the measure, which included concerns that Arizona would be mired in legal challenges as a result, “unfounded” in light of the high court’s ruling, and said he was reviewing his options to give the Democrat another opportunity to sign the legislation. 

GOP backers of the act in Arizona have repeatedly defended it against accusations of unconstitutionality by pointing out that the Supreme Court now has a conservative supermajority, unlike when SB1070 was struck down. Only two of the justices who sided with the federal government in that case remain on the bench today, and the current court has shown a willingness to overturn settled precedent that has emboldened Republican lawmakers across the country hoping to advance proposals that would have previously been rejected because they clearly run afoul of prior court rulings. 

The post Pro-immigrant business leaders: GOP bills targeting migrants are ‘anti-business’ appeared first on Arizona Mirror.