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Arizona State Capitol
Arizona’s state legislature may approve a ballot measure on unauthorized immigration. Matt York/AP

Arizona Republicans Are Pushing an Anti-Immigration Ballot Measure to Boost Turnout

A ballot measure under consideration by the state Legislature could counteract the Democrats expected to come out to vote for abortion protections in November.

Arizona Republicans are hoping a potential ballot measure to crack down on unauthorized immigration will draw their voters out to the polls.

The state Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to approve a ballot measure that would make being in Arizona without legal status unlawful as part of state law. If the measure makes the ballot for November, some think it could motivate GOP voters to turn out, much like the likely ballot amendment to enshrine abortion rights is expected to drive Democratic turnout.

“With the amount of public frustration around the immigration issue, it’s like trying to put a hook in water to draw voters towards the immigration narrative,” said Chuck Coughlin, who leads the Republican-aligned consulting firm HighGround in Phoenix. “The House and Senate majorities [in the state Legislature] want to build a narrative, something that’s on the ballot that they can talk about, that can drive those dissatisfied voters to polls.”

The potential immigration ballot measure needs approval from all 16 Republican state senators and a majority of state House members to make the ballot. The state House already approved a version of the measure.

Right now, it’s unclear if Republicans have the votes in the Senate, thanks to an amendment that would address recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Republican state Sen. Ken Bennett is opposed to the measure in its current form because it would make DACA recipients lose any protected status if the program stops or is ever nullified by the courts. However, other Republicans could pull back their support if the Senate doesn’t include that amendment.

The ballot measure was crafted in the image of Texas’ SB 4, which allowed state and local police to arrest people illegally crossing the border. (Immigration enforcement is handled by the federal government, which has sued to block the Texas law.)

But it also has shades of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, a 2010 law that was ultimately blocked in part by the Supreme Court. Coughlin called the new measure “the grandchild of 1070.”

The politics of the new ballot measure are complicated. It could drive opponents to the polls; many younger Latinos became more politically active as a result of SB 1070. And not all traditionally Republican constituencies are in favor of the bill. The business community has come out against the measure.

Democrats have slammed the measure as a political ploy by their GOP colleagues.

“Republicans know they are losing on abortion, so they decided to at the last minute change the rules to put this incredibly egregious anti-immigrant ballot measure up for a vote to be sent to the voters,” state Rep. Analise Hernandez said on TikTok.

Tara Kavaler is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.