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SB 1070 re-ignites controversy 10 years after immigration crackdown thrust Arizona into national firestorm

PHOENIX — Ten years after SB 1070 ignited a firestorm over Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration, the most divisive state law in recent memory is back in the middle of a new controversy.

Gov. Doug Ducey is joining President Donald Trump's campaign against so-called "sanctuary cities." 

Ducey wants to protect a key part of SB 1070 that's already state law, but that – the governor and his supporters contend – is still vulnerable to challenges.

Now, after fireworks at a state Senate hearing on Ducey's plan last week, immigrant rights activists are threatening to launch another economic boycott of Arizona; major Valley organizations are coming out against Ducey's plan; and more protests are expected later this week when the state House takes up the plan.

"We thought we had left this behind, but apparently Gov. Ducey hasn't learned a lesson," Sal Reza, a longtime immigration rights activist, said at a Tuesday news conference. 

"They can stop this right now, today, just scuttle it, put it to the side, or they can escalate it... and create a free-for-all... also the possibilities of a boycott starting against Arizona."

The boycott threat is a reminder of the economic harm caused by SB 1070 after its passage.   

What Ducey Wants

The governor wants to harden an existing state ban on sanctuary cities.

The language comes almost directly from SB 1070: local law enforcement must cooperate with federal immigration authorities. 

Sanctuary cities withhold that cooperation.

The governor wants to take the law a step further: enshrining it in the Arizona Constitution by putting it to a statewide vote. 

"Let's give all Arizona voters the opportunity to say 'yes' to the rule of law and 'no' to sanctuary cities," Ducey said in his State of the State speech to the Legislature in January.

RELATED: Recap: Gov. Doug Ducey's 2020 'State of the State' speech

'A technical change'

Ducey assigned State Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge to lead the ballot referral. 

"The catalyst for all of this was what happened in Tucson a year ago," Shope said in an interview. "I think most folks didn't think of this being an issue."

It wasn't really an issue in Tucson. Residents voted overwhelmingly last year to reject sanctuary city status, because it's illegal in Arizona. 

But Shope said large Arizona cities might still be emboldened to reject working with the feds on immigration. 

"This is an opportunity for us to make what I think is a technical change to the state Constitution," he said.

Making law bullet-proof

The change would be more than technical.

Ducey wants voters in November to make the SB 1070 language bulletproof by moving it into the Constitution. 

Under state law, a voter-approved requirement that local law enforcement comply with federal immigration authorities' requests would be virtually immune to changes. 

Voter-approved laws require a three-quarters vote of the Legislature to amend. 

Top prosecutor says cities cooperate

Arizona's top federal prosecutor – a Trump appointee – says the current ban on sanctuary cities works. 

"You hear cities regularly making a show as if they are opposed to immigration enforcement," U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey said at a recent news conference.

 "But in fact, they cooperate."

The ballot referral is are one of several pieces of immigration legislation this session that opponents have labeled "SB 1070-plus":

HB 2304 would give the state attorney general access to Arizona's voter-registration database so it can be vetted for voters' citizenship status, under a contract with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.

HB 2598 would expose public officials to lawsuits for crimes that result from failed immigration enforcement. 

Valley organizations oppose Ducey plan

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Community Foundation have sharply criticized the ballot referrals.

"These proposals are destabilizing and unnecessary given existing state laws that address the very issues they claim to solve," the foundation, the largest charitable giver in the state, said in a prepared statement

Monica Villalobos, chief executive of the Hispanic Chamber, said: 

"Placing this referendum on the ballot would be a redundant and painful reminder of a dark chapter in Arizona's history. We request that Gov. Ducey and Arizona’s legislative leadership oppose these efforts."

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