WASHINGTON — Arizona has taken one of the broadest and toughest stances on immigration in the country. State Senate Bill 1070, which faced scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past year, is one of the most controversial and high-profile pieces of immigration legislation around.

So when Rep. Mazie Hirono said in a July debate that Democratic opponent and former Rep. Ed Case has supported “Arizona-style legislation” on immigration, Case bristled.

“That’s not true Mazie,” he said. “I believe in immigration. I believe in legal immigration, I believe in full immigration.”

So what’s going on here?

First things first, what exactly did Hirono mean by “Arizona-style immigration”?

“For all I know, she considers any immigration reform, especially reform to prevent illegal immigration, to be ‘Arizona-style,’” Case told Civil Beat.

The Hirono campaign confirmed to Civil Beat that “‘Arizona-style’ immigration laws refers primarily to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.”

The most tensely debated part of the act is the so-called “show me your papers provision,” which requires immigrants to carry government documentation with them at all times. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld that provision but dismantled other parts of the act, including provisions that would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work.

Criminalization is at the heart of Hirono’s claim against Case. Hirono campaign spokeswoman Betsy Lin put it this way: “the question for Case is whether or not he supported criminalizing illegal aliens.”

Hirono’s exact words in the debate were, “It is a fact that Ed Case did vote for Arizona-style immigration legislation in fact making illegal immigrants felons.”

One of the key votes that Case made on immigration was in favor of House Resolution 4437, a 256-page Republican-crafted measure that passed in the House in 2006.

The hotly debated measure included provisions that would have redefined “aggravated felony” in the Immigration and Nationality Act to include smuggling offenses and illegal entry.

Focusing on that provision, Case says, is “very much cherry picking one provision of a massive bill.”

“The bill did not make all illegal immigration a felony,” Case said. “It enhanced penalties for actions, like repeated re-entry or smuggling or repeated knowing employment of illegal immigrants, already classified as crimes.”

But the bill would have made “unlawful presence” in the United States a federal crime punishable by up to one year and one day in prison — the minimum sentence for a felony in the United States. Here’s how a group of Asian Pacific American groups characterized their opposition to the bill in December 2005 letter to members of Congress:

H.R. 4437 would: Criminalize millions of immigrants, including lawful permanent residents and legal nonimmigrants who accrue technical violations of immigration regulations. Section 203 of H.R. 4437 makes being “present in the United States in violation of the immigration laws or the regulations” a federal crime punishable by a prison sentence of one year and one day. But such violations would include lawful permanent residents who fail to report a change of address to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within ten days, as well as university students on F-1 visas who drop below a full course load or H-1B workers who lose their jobs and take too long to find another job. Section 201 of H.R. 4437 would make such “crimes” an “aggravated felony,” subject to mandatory detention and virtually no relief from deportation.”

The bill’s author, Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, attempted to walk back the controversial felony provision. He tried to pass an amendment to reduce sentences for illegal entry and unlawful presence in the bill to six months.

Case and the majority of House Democrats voted against that amendment, which ultimately failed on Dec. 16, 2005. Many Democrats characterized that vote not as an endorsement of the felony provision but as a way to make it harder for the bill to ultimately move forward.

“The Democrats were not going to do anything to make it easier for Republicans to pass an atrocious bill,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, according to The Washington Post.

But while most Democrats voted against the overall measure, Case went on to vote for it, with harsher sentences still in place. He was one of only 36 Democrats to support the final version of bill. Case told Civil Beat he voted that way to keep “discussion and reform proposals alive,” pointing out that the vote was for House passage, not to send the bill to the president to be signed into law.

“HR 4437 was the major bill of my tenure and had many provisions, not all of which I agreed with,” Case said. “However, it did have the basics of immigration reform along the lines I supported.”

Bottom Line: Case supports enforcement for illegal immigration, and has voted in favor of legislation that included felony punishment for illegal immigrants. Hirono’s claim that Case supported legislation “making illegal immigrants felons” is true.

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