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Arizona Republicans Advance Bill Allowing Property Owners to Kill Migrants

The bill would allow property owners to kill migrants by claiming they believed their life was in danger.

Migrants who crossed the border from Mexico to the United States are detained by the Border Patrol and initiate the process of seeking humanitarian asylum in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on January 31, 2024.

Republicans in the Arizona state legislature have advanced a bill that would grant property owners the right to shoot and kill anyone who trespasses on their property, so long as they claim they were doing so in self-defense.

House Bill 2843 expands the state’s current “Castle Doctrine” law. That statute allows individuals to shoot and kill any person who breaks into their home. Under the new proposal, however, anyone who walks onto the land of an Arizona property owner could similarly be killed.

The bill is largely seen as a means to allow ranchers and farmers, whose property lines up with the U.S.-Mexico border, to shoot and kill migrants who may be crossing over to seek asylum, unaware that they’re entering private property. Indeed, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Justin Heap (R), specifically said the bill was meant to address migrants on people’s properties.

The bill also appears to be a direct response to such a situation. Last year, a 73-year-old rancher named George Alan Kelly shot what he called “warning shots” in the direction of a group of migrants whom he claimed were armed, saying he felt threatened by their presence. Kelly was around 100 yards away from the migrants. One of Kelly’s shots killed Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea; when his body was examined, it was determined that he was unarmed.

The proposal passed the state House earlier this week along party lines by a vote of 31-28. Although the bill has a good chance of passage in the Republican-run state Senate, it’s expected to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

Republicans across the U.S. are pushing forward a slew of xenophobic anti-immigration bills, likely out of a desire to bolster their chances of winning several key races in the 2024 election cycle. However, recent polling shows that most Americans do not list immigration as their top issue at this time, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll published this week showing that the topic is third behind the issues of the economy and threats to democracy.

Americans overall appear to favor at least some immigration policies that treat migrants humanely. While a majority now support cruel and harmful measures like building a border wall, most voters also want to prioritize expanding protections for immigrants in the U.S. as well.

According to a Data for Progress poll published last month, 56 percent of voters say the government should make it easier for migrants to make their case before an immigration judge and to avoid sending asylum seekers back into dangerous situations. In contrast, only 35 percent said migrants should be immediately deported.

Furthermore, the same poll found that 62 percent of voters agreed with eliminating a six-month waiting period for asylum seekers in the U.S. to apply for work authorization. Only 30 percent of voters oppose that idea.

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