Arizona Senate rejects measure targeting immigrants

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Three Republicans in the Arizona Senate broke ranks and joined Democrats Thursday to narrowly reject a measure that would bar judges from giving sentencing breaks to immigrants in the country illegally.

The vote came despite a 20-minute speech by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, in which he introduced the families of people killed by immigrants and pleaded with the opponents to change their vote.

The measure would have denied any probation or parole for immigrants without legal status who commit felonies and require them to serve at least the mid-range prison term for their conviction.

[RELATED: Arizona Senate panel passes measures targeting immigrants (Jan. 31, 2017)]

"It's unfortunate, because members of my own party are voting against this bill and I have yet to get a single good reason why," Smith said during a floor speech. "It is just sad that we have a bill that will directly help families in our state and in our country and because of one political pressure or another ... you're going to ahead and defeat this bill.

"And if that sits well on your conscious, let it sit well," Smith said.

As Smith spoke, he pointed to the father of Grant Ronnebeck, a Mesa retail clerk killed by a person in the country illegally. The man had been sentenced to probation for two burglaries and turned over to federal officials, who let him out on bond pending deportation proceedings. The families of other people killed by immigrants were nearby during the hearing.

The three Republicans who defected from the party-line vote didn't speak during the floor vote. They are Sens. Bob Worsley of Mesa, Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix and Frank Pratt of Casa Grande.

Brophy McGee said later that she didn't believe Smith's bill fixes the problem or helps the families. She also said she believes there are constitutional issues with the proposal and that the proper place for immigration legislation is in the U.S. Congress.

"It wouldn't have helped," Brophy McGee said. "Bad people do bad things to good people far too often, and I feel horrible for the families."

Worsley said he voted last year to toughen a 1996 law that allowed people in the country illegally to be released early for deportation, but he noted that with President Trump in office and strictly enforcing immigration laws another tightening isn't required.

"The 1996, the 2016 or the 2017 bills that we're discussing here, none of those would have saved Grant's life, and that's the travesty of the whole show that we had on the floor today," Worsley said. "None of these facts in his horrendous murder of my constituent in Mesa would have been corrected by any of these bills."

A similar bill pushed by Smith also failed last year as some Republicans continued to avoid immigration issues that damaged the state's reputation following the 2010 passage of Senate Bill 1070.

After its rejection Thursday, Senate Bill 1279 could be brought back up for a second vote, but it's unlikely given the vote tally of 14 in favor and 16 against.

Arizona passed a series of immigration crackdowns in the past decade that culminated with the approval of SB 1070 in 2010. The law launched protests, lawsuits and national controversy with its provision requiring police to try and determine the immigration status of people during routine stops.

Courts barred enforcement of several sections of the law, but the questioning requirement was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, despite racial profiling concerns by critics.

The Legislature has mainly avoided immigration bills since then.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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