At around 4:45, 15 minutes after our arranged time to talk, I called State Senator Sinema’s office to inquire about the status of our planned discussion on Friday, February 4th. I got some run-around from her assistant for the next fifteen minutes and then didn’t hear back. Then, at 5 pm, her office line was just going straight to voicemail, so I decided to call her directly and made contact.
I told the Senator that several in the Hispanic Community were disappointed in her for sponsoring SB1225, and I initially heard of the complaint from a sweet friend and local Hispanic Democratic community activist whom I have worked with in the past. Sinema told me I was the first to bring this to her attention. I told the Senator that Dave Morales was another person who informed us that he brought this concern to her attention, however, she told me that he only asked questions two weeks ago and didn’t think he had a problem with it.
I was still confused how I could be the first one that would bring this to her attention, so I reminded her that Senator Steve Gallardo was receiving concerns from the Hispanic community and was confident that he brought the concern before her. However, Sinema told us that Gallardo did not say a single word to her before the committee meeting, and apparently he apologized to Sinema for not coming to her ahead of time. She went on to say that Dave Morales did not contact her more recently, and she didn’t know he was upset with her until she saw his blog. When she saw the blog, she said she sent an email to him expressing her disappointment in him because he was calling her a “sell out” to the Latino community.
On a side note, I was surprised to hear Sinema ask for my opinion of her. I told her that although I acknowledge Republican extremists in my Party, and how they have damaged my Party of Abraham Lincoln; I was not going to let go of the fact that President Obama broke a promise he made to my People to pass immigration reform within 90 days of his Presidency. I told her that I felt most Democrats are guilty of that, and I lumped her in to that same crowd. While Republican extremists introduce enforcement only bills, that show a trend of over-over criminalizing anti-immigrant laws, it certainly does not help the Democratic image when they stand idly by because they are afraid to touch the kryptonite and toxic immigration issue for the sakes of saving their political necks.
We continued our concerns to Sinema and told her SB 1225 reminded us of what occurred 3 or 4 years ago when Sen. Sinema initially introduced a bill that was later taken over by Rep. Jonathan Paton. Paton in essence took and used her language – only to get it passed, and to this day, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has used her language. She denied the claims made by our community and stated she would give us the evidence to prove otherwise. We hope to see that evidence soon, and will inform you to that regard as soon as we get it from her.
As a result of the increasing distrust, I expressed to Sinema that my base and other members of the Hispanic Community needed to see her kill the bill SB 1225.
I’m glad she shared with me her firm continued commitment to immigrants’ rights issues. That said, I’m still deeply troubled that she chose to adopt the inflammatory right wing rhetoric and fear mongering: calling her bill a measure that “gets tough on…illegal immigration.”
Senator Sinema shared that SB 1225 has been in play in various incarnations for the last few years. She was prompted to craft the legislation by then Attorney General Terry Goddard (but Terry suggested this to her over 3 years ago). I reminded her that 3 years ago was a different era, and right now, the state of Arizona is NOTORIOUS for over-criminalizing anti-immigrant laws. SB1225 is already on the books with penalties implemented, and her changes will only increase incarceration times that eventually burden our tax payers more. Arizona is already recognized for being a police state with millions upon millions pouring into our “Prison Economics”.
Just to make sure everyone’s on the same page, here’s a summary of what the bill does and does not do:
In the Arizona Revised Statutes, the crime of forgery is already a felony (class 4). The bill’s language keeps the law the same for most forgeries (ie: they remain classified as a class 4 felony). However, the bill aims to move any forgeries related to procurement and use of a property as a “drop house” up to the next most severe charge: a class 3 felony. I take issue with this as, to me, a forgery is a forgery and motive for committing the forgery already has a place in the process–during sentencing. However, Sinema shared her motivation for the change:
By moving the offense to a more severe felony, the prison sentences can be longer.
Here’s our first problem: The bill explicitly states that the definition of “drop house” to be used for the purpose of implementing the statute change is the one listed in section 13-2319 of the criminal statutes…but there’s more digging! Section 13-2319 refers the reader to 13-2322 for the definition of drop house. 2322 says a drop house is a “property or real property that is used to facilitate smuggling pursuant to section 2319.”
Here’s the definition of “smuggling of human beings” in 2319: “the transportation, procurement of transportation, or use of property or real property by a person or an entity that knows or has reason to know that the person or persons being transported or to be transported are not United States citizens, permanent resident aliens, or persons otherwise lawfully in this state or have attempted to enter, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of the law.”
This language, which defines “drop house” and “smuggling of human beings” so broadly seems almost as if it was written to intentionally create loopholes to antagonize peaceful immigrants and those who love, care for, and rent to them. These pieces of Title 13 have in fact been used to persecute and wrongfully harass and punish friends and family of undocumented immigrants who have not in fact engaged in human smuggling for profit (if they engaged in it at all).
We went back and forth for a while, sharing both our feelings and experiences regarding immigrant rights and the ever present fight for them. She reassured me that she would support the ARIZONA COMPACT.
I’m glad we got the chance to talk and look forward to further communication. She suggested that we communicate further this week. I’m sure you all want to know the fate of the bill. Senator Sinema, after much persistent pleading, confirmed that she will not kill the bill. She also said that she agrees that the language defining a drop house is poor and that she’s working with the Attorney General’s office to fix it.
Essentially, despite the very legitimate worry that a change to the forgery statute will exacerbate problems already at hand with the prior poorly worded legislation, Senator Sinema feels very passionately about the legislation and intends to go forward with the bill. Here are my hopes so perhaps we can accomplish her goals for the bill without hurting our already oppressed immigrant community further:
1. Amend bill to change drop house section to be far narrower.
2. Keep the Latino community abreast of any amendments to be heard about the bill. Promise to stop using right-wing rhetoric in press releases and instead just be confident in her pro-immigrant stance.
3. Reaffirm that we need to focus on crime and make absolutely certain that future bills intended to target true violent criminals will safeguard the innocent immigrant population so they don’t get caught in the crosshairs of her good-willed legislation.
4. Openly support the ARIZONA COMPACT.
5. Kill the bill she sponsored. There is no need to over-criminalize laws that are already on the books with penalties in place. We would like to move away from being recognized for Prison Economics.
If she doesn’t kill SB 1225, I do know that there will be an increased uproar from the Democratic Latino community that was known in the past for supporting her. This is serious business if she has aspirations of becoming a Congressional candidate in 2012 because Latinos on both sides of the political spectrum are fed up. It’s time to work on introduce healthy laws that legalize the immigration process because we all recognize the system is broken. It is strange how Latino Democrats and Republicans have been forced to work together (reluctantly sometimes), in order to work towards protecting our community.
We hope she is open to listen to conservatives who come to her with good intentions and work together on the right messaging with which to shape public policy. It might be validating in the short term to speak in the anti-immigrant tone of the right in press releases, but to truly show the community that she’s reaching across the aisle and wants to build broad, successful coalitions for our immigrant community.