Educators fear Arizona immigration ballot proposal will harm schoolchildren

The proposed ballot measure would allow local and state officers to arrest people at schools, churches and hospitals and they could be detained and deported.

Arizona immigration bill 2024
Matt York / AP Photo file

Educators in Arizona are sounding the alarm about a proposed ballot measure that, if supported by voters, would allow local and state officers to arrest people they believe entered the country illegally — and they would be able to do so at schools, hospitals and places of worship.

Unlike the Texas law it is patterned after, the proposed ballot measure in Arizona, HCR2060, does not prohibit making arrests at those institutions. According to NBC News the measure also allows judges to order those arrested to be detained and deported.

"We've already been hearing a lot of parents being extremely nervous if this passes; what is going to happen with drop-off, what is going to happen with pickup" of their children at school, said Jeff Zetino, research and policy director for ALL In Education, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve Latino education outcomes.

Zetino said that one parent leader has two children with autism and wondered what will happen when she goes to get health services.

"Does she have to worry about bringing identification or her papers or is she going to be harassed by officials on or near a health care campus?" he asked.

While drastic measures such as pulling a child out of a classroom or a worshipper from a pew may not happen, a community resource officer— security officers stationed at schools — or any official could ask a student or ask parents for proof that they did not enter the U.S. illegally, Zetino said.

This possibility “makes the really difficult relationship between the school and the community tenuous,” he said.

Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, the Arizona House minority whip, warned Tuesday that the proposal would turn parent-teacher conferences into immigration enforcement stings, that some families might not go to graduations for fear law enforcement might be conducting checks there, and children might not ask to go to the school nurse to protect parents from being called in and potentially arrested.

“Fear. This bill is hurtful and it will cost money, It will cause trauma and make our state a very fear-filled place once again … Don’t Texas my Arizona,” she said before voting “no.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature voted to approve the ballot measure after separate legislation was vetoed by the Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

The resolution says the proposal does not apply to anyone who entered illegally before the ballot measure could be enforced.

The fact that it wouldn't be retroactive has given little comfort to opponents, who are questioning how law enforcement will know the difference and point out that there is no provision in the bill that limits the arrests to the border area, where officers can easily witness someone illegally entering the U.S.

While Arizona has many Latino immigrants, its Latino population also is made up of many Latinos who were born in the country and some whose roots trace back to before Arizona was a state. Some families are often a mix of Native American and Mexican American.

Opponents have said the proposal, if approved, would lead to racial profiling as the state experienced under SB1070, a law that allowed police to question anyone they suspected were in the country illegally.

The measure also states that people who were paroled into the country through certain programs, such as the Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelans recently granted parole by President Joe Biden, could be arrested.

Worries over a 'backtrack' on academic progress

“The place where this is going to impact the most is high Latino and high immigrant communities,” said Zetino. “And these are the same communities that are underperforming (academically) and these are the same communities that need more attention in building and strengthening their local school system.”

Arizona schools already suffer chronic absenteeism, Zetino said. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing at least 10% or about 18 days of the school year.

According to Read On Arizona, 28% of students in first through eighth grade were considered chronically absent in 2023. The rate was higher, 35%, among economically advantaged students last year, the group reported.

"Any progress that we've made will just backtrack," said Anaiis Ballesteros, ALL In Education spokeswoman.

State Sen. Anna Hernandez, a Phoenix Democrat who chairs the Latino Legislative Caucus, said opponents of the measure did not try to amend the ballot proposal to prohibit arrests at schools or other places because she and others vehemently opposed the entire legislation.

"We weren't going to offer any amendments because no amendments were going to make this better," Hernandez told NBC News. She said the ballot proposal is an attempt by GOP lawmakers to counter another ballot measure seeking to legalize abortion that may help Democrats rally supporters.

"They are really trying to rile up their base," Hernandez said.

GOP lawmakers have said the ballot proposal is intended to secure the border, which has seen larger numbers of people arriving and asking for asylum.

"This is really a border security bill. This is not really an immigration bill. It's us stopping people who are crossing the border illegally. It doesn't have to do with inside of the state or lawful presence," Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, a Republican, told Fox News in May.

The Legislature was not in session on Friday and a message left with Republican House Speaker Ben Toma's office was not returned.

The immigrant advocacy group LUCHA has filed a lawsuit challenging the ballot measure, saying it violates a Republican-sponsored law that prohibits addressing more than one subject in a ballot measure.

Along with criminalizing illegal border crossings, the proposal includes requiring the use of E-Verify, a system employers use to confirm people the've hired are eligible to work, and also increases penalties for the sale and transport of fentanyl.

Both the Texas law and the Arizona ballot proposal attempt to challenge legal precedent upholding that the federal government, not the states, has authority over immigration enforcement and deportation.

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