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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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Opinion

Arizona bill legalizing shooting migrants is part of GOP brand

May 8

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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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In February 2024, Arizona Republicans proposed a bill that would have permitted property owners to murder anyone accused of trespassing on their property. Although the bill did not explicitly mention immigrants, Arizona State Rep. Justin Heap (R) stated in a hearing that the bill aimed to address a perceived loophole through which migrants have moved within the U.S. In April, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) vetoed the bill.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette warns that this dangerous legislation might have passed without a Democratic governor, and says that the Republican goal here was essentially to “go hunting for migrants.”

Even under the so called “Castle Doctrine” that some states have in place, where a person is allowed to threaten to use deadly force to stop someone from criminally trespassing onto their property, there are limits. For instance, under those laws, a homeowner can use deadly force only if he or she is defending themselves or another person. The new bill gave property owners much more power and the leeway to use it.

This “murder bill” was ripped from the headlines. An Arizona rancher named George Kelly recently faced trial on second degree murder charges in the January 2023 shooting death of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, an undocumented immigrant who was found dead on Kelly’s property. The rancher pled not guilty, claiming that he only fired warning shots. What a tragedy. Gabriel was probably coming to the United States to pick lettuce, and instead his family back home had to pick out a casket. The jury in Kelly’s trial deadlocked and couldn’t reach a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial. The prosecutors decided not to retry the rancher, and so Kelly went free.

This legislation was gross and abhorrent. It would have declared open season on migrants, but it is on brand for a Republican Party that seeks to dehumanize immigrants.

As a professional storyteller, I think it’s only right to start whenever possible with a story about 25 years ago. How was it really so long ago? Yep, I guess it was about 25 years ago in the summer of 1999. I was visiting the Arizona Mexico border. Back then, as is true. Now, there was chaos on the border. Arizonans were confused. On the one hand, they were afraid of immigrants, but on the other they were addicted to immigrant labor. At the time, I was on the job working as a metro columnist, a baby columnist for The Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state. And my traveling Buddy was a crack reporter who had a way with words away with people and also knew his way around the border. We had regularly invitation to visit the home of a white rancher whose property was right up against the US Mexico boundary line. A few weeks earlier, the rancher had been startled and awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of migrants coming across his property. He grabbed his rifle and gone outside, but no confrontation ensued. Now in 2020, for a quarter century later, there was incredibly, a barbaric bill recently introduced in the Arizona legislature that would have allowed a property owner on the border to threaten or even in some cases kill people who crossed their property to illegally enter the United States. The Arizona bill, which thankfully did not become law did not specifically mentioned migrants, but it didn’t have to do that. Who else would be trying to illegally enter the United States. In fact, the bill sponsor Republican Representative Justin heap explained in a committee hearing that his bill was intended to close a loophole, and assists ranchers who might witness someone trespassing across any part of their land no matter how far it was from the front porch of their home. Let’s be clear, this was a glorified hunting bill. This legislation would have made it lawful for Yahoo’s to go out anywhere on their property, even if we’re talking about a 50,000 acre ranch and go hunting for migrants who happen to walk across it. Even under the so called castle doctrine that some states have in place where a person is allowed to threaten to use deadly force to stop someone from criminally trespassing onto their property there are limits. For instance, under those laws, a homeowner can use deadly force only if he or she is defending themselves or another person. The new bill gave property owners much more power and the leeway to use it. This murder Bill was ripped from the headlines an Arizona rancher named George Kelly recently faced trial on second degree murder charges in the January 2023. shooting death of Gabriel Quinn Butea an undocumented immigrant who was found dead on Kelly’s property. The rancher pled not guilty, claiming that he only fired warning shots. What a tragedy Gabriel was probably coming to the United States to pick lettuce and set his family back home and to pick out a casket. The jury in Kelly’s trial deadlocked and couldn’t reach a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial, the prosecutors decided not to retry the rancher and so Kelly went free. This legislation was gross and apparent. It would have declared open season on migrants, but it is on brand for a Republican Party that seeks to dehumanize immigrants. After all, the party’s leader former President Donald Trump recently disparaged immigrants as animals and not human. And what do you do when animals go wild? Well, you shoot them, of course, someone had to save Arizona from itself. The last hope for decency and sanity was governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who vetoed the legislation in early April, the Grand Canyon State dodged a bullet you could say 25 years ago, as my fellow journalist and I were leaving the house of that other Arizona rancher. I remember turning to my buddy and saying something glib, like, Well, why did he expect if you don’t want to see Mexicans don’t go buy a ranch on the US Mexico border. See, that’s truce and common sense. Of course, those things have no place in the immigration debate, especially not in Arizona, where the West is still wild. And some folks are clearly off their meds.

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