From the Field

The nativist legislator behind Arizona’s newest threat to immigrant rights

Lindsay Schubiner • May 05, 2016
Image Source: Taylor Bennett (
Image Source: Taylor Bennett (

UPDATE: In a victory for immigrant rights, the Arizona House voted down SB 1377 once again when it came up for reconsideration on May 5th.

Yesterday Arizona lawmakers narrowly defeated the state’s most recent legislative threat to immigrant communities: SB 1377. This bill, following in the footsteps of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, targets immigrant communities for disparate treatment under the law. Though the House voted the bill down once, the legislation will come up for reconsideration today, when Arizona legislators once again have the opportunity to take a stand against discrimination.

SB 1377 would impose additional prison sentences based not just on the offense, but on the defendant’s immigration status. The bill would also take discretion away from prosecutors, cost taxpayers money, and run counter to criminal justice reform trends nationally.

SB 1377 would hand down maximum sentences to immigrants with felony convictions, creating a separate and more punitive criminal justice system for immigrants.

Not surprisingly, the legislator behind the bill has long embraced anti-immigrant fervor as key to his legislative goals. State Senator Steve Smith has sponsored numerous anti-immigrant bills, including one that would require certain materials published by the state (such as voting information) to be in English only.

Steve Smith

Arizona State Sen. Steve Smith

Echoing presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s calls for a border wall, Smith’s pet project is a website,, which bills itself as “the official border fence donation service for the state of Arizona.” Legislation to establish the website, which collects donations to finish building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, was approved by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer. According to Cronkite News, Smith said he wrote the text for the site, which draws upon statistics and claims made by a leading anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

The border fence fundraising site began collecting donations in July 2011. As of May 5, 2016, the site advertises $194,448 in donations collected from 4,093 people. Yet per a 2009 GAO report, the cost of one mile of border fencing averages $2.8 million.

Smith has previously gained endorsements from some of the most prominent anti-immigrant leaders in Arizona, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, and SB 1070’s primary sponsor Sen. Russell Pearce.

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