Az GOP’s ‘Secure the Border’ plan will cost at least $325 million a year: report

A Republican-backed plan to convince
voters to duplicate federal immigration enforcement by letting police
officers arrest migrants and Arizona judges deport them could end up
costing the state at least $325 million every year. 

GOP lawmakers in the state legislature, angry at Gov. Katie Hobbs’ refusal to approve their border policies, moved this week to send a series of rejected proposals to the November ballot in the hopes that voters will greenlight them instead. 

Dubbed the “Secure the Border Act,”
the wide-ranging legislation package makes it a state crime to for
migrants to cross the border anywhere but at a port of entry,
criminalizes undocumented Arizonans who submit false information to
apply for jobs or public benefits, and drastically enhances the prison
sentences for people who’s sale of fentanyl later results in an overdose

On Thursday, the Grand Canyon Institute, a non-partisan think tank, released a report
estimating that the legislation has the potential to cost Arizona
taxpayers at least $325 million every year it’s enforced — and possibly
much more.

Supporters of the measure have
defended it as necessary to safeguard public safety in the state and
waved away concerns over expense, even as Arizona faces a budget deficit of $1.3 billion. 

At a May 8 news conference, Senate
Warren Petersen, who co-sponsored an earlier version of the state crime
proposal that was later vetoed by Hobbs, said the benefits outweighed
any costs it could incur. At the time, no estimates of its potential
price tag were available, and GOP lawmakers have yet to add any funding
allocation to the proposal, but have been quick to guarantee the
legislature can cover it. 

“We will always fund public safety,
obviously,” Petersen said. “You know what the true costs are? The true
costs are the law-breaking and the insane amount of people — we are
going to save money by creating a deterrent.” 

On Thursday, House Speaker Ben Toma,
the sponsor of the proposal’s underlying legislation and a key backer of
the new version, struck a similar tone in response to the estimate.

“Democrats’ deliberate open-border
policies have inflicted devastating, long-lasting harm to Arizona
communities,” he said, in a written statement. “Illegal immigration
costs American taxpayers untold billions. People have had enough and
want something done. In November their voices will be heard.”

In a post on social media site X, formerly Twitter, Hobbs blasted the proposal as wrong for Arizona. 

“This job-killing ballot referral
that attacks our communities will not keep our border secure. Instead,
it will cost Arizona untold amounts of money and put a black eye on the
state’s reputation,” she wrote.

Where does the estimate come from?

The border policy package is made up
of several different provisions, each of which has its own associated
costs. If voters approve the proposal, local and state officials will be
forced to carry its mandates out — and a constitutional provision
protecting voter-approved laws means legislators won’t be able to change
them in the future. 

The most controversial part of the
proposal is a bid to give Arizona police the power to enforce federal
immigration law. Under it, migrants who cross the border anywhere except
for a port of entry would face a misdemeanor charge, punishable with up
to 6 months in jail. Repeat offenders would face longer sentences. That
part of the proposal is modeled on a Texas law that is currently tied
up in the courts. 

The Grand Canyon Institute relied on
the costs incurred by the Texas law when it was briefly in effect to
determine the potential costs in Arizona. The institute estimates that
the Lone Star State allocated roughly $425 million on an annual basis to
enforce the law. That amount paid for the deployment of 2,500 national
guardsmen, special operations personnel and equipment, criminal justice
and court administration costs and some health-related expenses. 

Because Arizona has a shorter border
than Texas, and the rate of migrant encounters in the Arizona sectors
are marginally lower than those in the Lone Star state, Grand Canyon
Institute researchers estimate Arizona would only be on the hook for
$185 million. 

Another part of the proposal
Republicans want to send to the November ballot would make it a class 6
felony for undocumented Arizonans to submit false information or
documentation to evade detection through E-Verify, an online federal
database some businesses use to confirm the employment eligibility of
potential hires. 

The Grand Canyon Institute projects
this provision alone could force taxpayers to fork over $140 million
every year so that local prosecutors can identify and convict people
guilty of falsifying their information. But that steep price doesn’t
mean crime rates will be reduced. In fact, GCI concluded, with county
prosecutorial offices busy looking for non-violent undocumented
offenders, criminal activity could worsen. 

Assuming the national rate “tentative
nonconfirmation” of 1.1% is the same in Arizona, only about 9,000
Arizonans are possibly guilty of falsifying their documents. But the
actual number of offenders is probably lower, and that’s because
“tentative nonconfirmation” — when the E-Verify program can’t fully
confirm someone’s employment eligibility — doesn’t automatically mean
someone submitted falsified documents. In the end, reads the report, the
mandate to find and prosecute undocumented offenders will draw
resources away from local public safety efforts, as happened under
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Republican focused his office on
immigration sweeps, and accumulated case backlogs. 

“Placing 9,000 arrest warrants out, and dedicating law enforcement forces to this task risks what occurred under former Sheriff Arpaio, which led to a decline in focus on other criminal activity as well as exceeding budgets,” reads the Institute’s report, which also cited a 2008 report written by Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick when he was an executive at the Goldwater Institute. 

That concern is also shared by
Arizona law enforcement officials. During a May 8 news conference,
Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes, who has been a staunch supporter of
the GOP legislation, said that he expected law enforcement agencies on
the border would need to hire more personnel. And while the proposal
doesn’t currently include any funding, he told lawmakers during a
committee hearing on the legislation that, if voters direct law
enforcement agencies to uphold it, he and others would need to return to
the legislature to request an allocation. 

“If the majority of the voters
approve this bill, anticipating that local law enforcement will become
more involved in border security, border enforcement, then we’re going
to be coming to all our elected leaders and asking you to honor the will
of the voters and provide the resources necessary to enforce the bill
that they passed,” he said.

Two other provisions in the proposal
punish those convicted of selling fentanyl that was later linked to a
death with a minimum of 9 and up 15 years in prison, and makes it a
class 6 felony for undocumented Arizonans to apply for public benefits
with falsified documents. The Grand Canyon Institute report has no
specific costs associated with those parts of the proposal, but it does
note that the rate at which Arizona receives federal benefits is so low
that the rate of falsified documents submitted by undocumented Arizonans
is likely “relatively small.” 

The report adds that, while it
doesn’t make an estimate on what the impact of increasing sentences for
fentanyl dealers would be, there are “far better tools to deal with
fentanyl than this approach.”