PHOENIX - An Arizona Senate hearing on an effort to enshrine an existing ban on "sanctuary cities'' in the state Constitution erupted in shouting as immigrant rights activists called the proposal racist and the committee chairman ordered them removed.
Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen's proposal to ask voters weigh in on the plan was approved along party lines after a lengthy delay of Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
The proposal backed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey brought warnings from Democrats about the return to "one of the darkest years in Arizona history,'' referencing the 2010 passage of the law known as SB1070, which was designed to crack down on illegal immigration.
The courts upheld the law's ban on sanctuary policies and its key feature: a requirement that police officers, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Other provisions of the landmark law _ such as a requirement that immigrants carry registration papers _ were barred by the courts.
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada said SB1070 instilled fear among the population and harmed students of all races. He added that Arizona doesn't need to ban sanctuary cities since the portion of the law banning them was one of the few provisions that survived a U.S. Supreme Court review.
"This is a meaningless exercise,'' Quezada said, adding that the new measure was intended to appeal to base Republican voters. ``All is does is pander to a small group of people.''
Allen testified that criminal cartels were using sanctuary policies to run drugs and import ``criminal elements.''
"If we are not going to be a nation of laws and respect the laws of our nation we go to anarchy,' she said. "You cannot live in a society of anarchy. There must be a respect for law.''
Ducey called for the measure in his January State of the State address, saying it was needed to reinforce the state's will that cities and counties can't ignore federal immigration laws. It was a sharp change for the second-term governor, who has largely avoided the anti-immigrant tone embraced by his predecessor, Republican Jan. Brewer.
The new proposal goes farther than the existing law, which bars government agencies and officials from limiting or restricting the enforcement of federal immigration law.
Under the measures now moving in both the House and Senate, all government agencies would be required to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies, including schools and public hospitals. If approved, voters would be asked to approve the constitutional amendment in November.
"SCR1007 turns every part of Arizona's government into immigration enforcers, destroying the trust between community and government,'' Darrell Hill, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the committee. If the Legislature sends the proposal to voters and it is approved, it will return the state ``to the dark ages right after 1070 when political turmoil and fear gripped Arizona.''
The hearing devolved into chaos when Republican committee Chairman Sen. Eddie Farnsworth cut off a speaker representing a Latino activist group.
Hugo Polanco, speaking for Latinos United for Change in Arizona, called the proposal ``a return to the racism, divisiveness and hate of SB1070.''
"There's nothing racist about anybody up here,'' Farnsworth interrupted. ``So I'm going to caution you - testify, but you don't need to be vitriolic.''
Polanco pressed on, noting the current ban on sanctuary policies and urging the panel to ``reject this racist, divisive and hateful legislation."
Farnsworth cut him off and was forced to suspend the hearing when activists began shouting: ``This is a racist law and you're not allowing the people to speak.''
After a lengthy recess where security removed the activists, the committee approved the measure on a 4-3 party-line vote.
Democratic Sen. Lupe Contreras, whose grandparents immigrated from Mexico, said he rejected what he said was a narrative that immigrants are all criminals.
"There's bad people in every race, in every county, every country, every city,`` Contreras said. ``But when we start depicting that every immigrant is that bad person ... I just can't stand for that.''
Republican Sen. Rick Gray said the measure will go before the voters so the people will have the final say.
"We are putting this is the laps of the people,'' Gray said. ``We are not mandating this on them. If the majority of the people are opposed to this it gives them the opportunity to say that and make that clear."