Pro-immigrant groups disappointed with Hobbs’ budget, look to the future
Latino voters turned out in force to help deliver the state’s top position to Gov. Katie Hobbs, but pro-immigrant groups say the newly approved budget, the culmination of her first year in office, fails to live up to their hopes.
The Democrat positioned herself as an advocate for Latinos across the state, earnestly courting their support during a contentious race and vowing to “prioritize the needs of a group that makes up over a third of our state’s population.”
That commitment was reasserted in her first state of the state speech, when she debuted a scholarship fund for Dreamers, who are barred from the state-funded Arizona Promise Program that aids low-income students. That initiative, however, isn’t included in the state budget proposal she negotiated with Republican lawmakers, nor did any other pro-immigrant measures advocates backed this session, with heightened enthusiasm at the prospect of an ally on the Ninth Floor.
For José Patiño, vice president of education for Aliento, Hobbs’ election signaled a momentous shift in a state with a history of hostility toward its undocumented residents.
“This is the first time in my adult lifetime that we have a Democratic governor. We didn’t know what to expect, so we did get our hopes up,” he said.
Hobbs was the first Democrat elected governor of Arizona since Janet Napolitano, who held the post from 2003 until 2009.
Aliento, an immigrant and DACA-led organization that fought to give undocumented students equal access to higher education through Prop. 308, quickly went to work, lending its voice to advocating for driver’s licenses and occupational licenses for undocumented immigrants and endorsing Hobbs’ scholarship fund for Dreamers.
And while the legislative proposals allowing immigrants to legally join others on the road and work in their chosen careers stagnated in the Republican-majority legislature, Patiño held out hope that the Dreamer scholarships at least would figure into the budget, even if Hobbs was forced to pare down its funding. Hobbs proposed $40 million to establish the fund, adding an equivalent infusion into the already existing Arizona Promise Program to assuage Republican ire. But instead, Patiño said, the governor’s promises to Arizona’s immigrant students echoed empty promises made at the federal level.
“In this case, we have Governor Hobbs saying that she would support Latinos, and make sure that Dreamers felt like they were home in Arizona,” he said. “At least from the outside, it doesn’t seem like our priorities were prioritized by the current administration.”
A last-minute amendment to include driver’s licenses in the transportation portion of the state budget was put up for a vote and quickly rejected by the Republican majority on Wednesday, under the reasoning that Hobbs and GOP legislative leadership hadn’t approved its inclusion. Hobbs’ office did not respond to a question about what her stance on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants is, nor did it provide a comment on the scholarship fund’s absence from the state budget.
Selling the budget as a win for Latinos in Arizona, many of whom were especially hopeful about the prospect of driver’s licenses, is a difficult task, Patiño said. Several provisions are worth celebrating, but the initiatives that so many members of Aliento and other pro-immigrant organizations campaigned for didn’t succeed.
“How do we explain it to folks, that there are good things included in the budget, things that are going to support them, but also things that were promised that were not included?” he asked. “What are the things that they can hold onto, that they can say ‘My hours of volunteering, knocking on doors and telling people to vote was worth it?’”
Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, agreed that Hobbs’ budget is a mix of wins and losses. The governor has a long way to go to make good on her promises to Latinos and immigrants in the Grand Canyon State, she said, but there are several parts of the budget that are likely to benefit them.
The coalition is a part of the People First Economy, a campaign consisting of several pro-worker and pro-immigrant groups that advocates for paid family leave, housing investments and increased public education funding. Hobbs’ budget includes a historic $150 million allocation for the state’s Housing Trust Fund, and injects a one-time funding boost of $300 million into K-12 education. Both funding streams help Arizonans across the state, including Latinos, who are often among the most low-income and whose children overwhelmingly attend public schools.
But, Ruiz said, Latinos, and especially undocumented members of the community, deal with unique disadvantages that the budget doesn’t make any attempt to redress. Health care, including the low-income state insurance program AHCCCS, is closed to undocumented residents, as well as certain types of housing aid.
“There’s more work to be done,” Ruiz said. “There’s a lot of things to be undone of the harm that has been done in Arizona towards the immigrant community.”
A lot of that harm was enacted under decades of Republican leadership, and the party still controls the legislature, with members repeatedly pushing back on reforms floated by Hobbs this session. The Dreamer scholarship fund elicited outrage from GOP lawmakers who panned the measure and criticized it for rewarding illegal immigrants at the expense of legal citizens seeking an education. While the scholarship’s failure to appear in the budget is disappointing, Ruiz has her eyes on the next few years, hopeful that some help will eventually materialize given time, and as long as Hobbs holds onto her commitment in the face of political pressure.
“The legislature is still majority-Republican and they’re doing everything in their power to stop her from making real change,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I hope Gov. Hobbs does not shy away from her promise to help us, and that she doesn’t give in to the GOP.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.