Arizona Republicans Advance Bill Allowing Ranchers to Kill Migrants Trespassing

The bill would make it legal for a land owner "to kill or threaten to kill people who cross their property to illegally enter the U

Arizona border

Photo: Unspalsh/ Greg Bulla

For decades now, the migrant community has faced many acts of violence due to the U.S.’s anti-immigration policies. Even before Latin American migrants reach the U.S., they face many challenges including harsh weather conditions, hunger, and the risk of being caught and deported. Or worse, being killed or, as it happened just earlier this year, drowning in a river without life-saving intervention from nearby authorities. Most recently, the Arizona Legislature is in the process of advancing a bill that would make it legal for a land owner “to kill or threaten to kill people who cross their property to illegally enter the U.S.,”. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Heap, the bill’s goal is to provide a legal loophole for ranchers to be able to kill trespassers on any section of their property, not just within a mile of their home. As the majority of people who have to be on ranches to cross into the U.S. are migrants, it would effectively make it possible for landowners to kill them and face no legal repercussions in court.

“It’s terrifying. It would give people free rein to execute somebody and it would broaden extrajudicial killings,” Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz Ortiz told NBC News. “This is part of a broader anti-immigrant movement that we’ve seen coming from the right, which aims to dehumanize and vilify people who are coming to this country seeking asylum.”

As one of the four U.S. states sharing a border with Mexico, Arizona faces unique immigration-related issues. From October 2023 to January 2024, Border Patrol arrested 250,000 migrants crossing into Arizona, second only to all four sectors of Texas combined. Tuscon specifically is a huge entrance for migrants despite the harsh weather, Mexican cartels, the border wall, and statewide anti-immigration laws. As of now, there is the “Castle Doctrine” which allows Arizona residents the use of deadly force against home intruders if they feel threatened and this new bill would expand it to include property intrusion.

Though Democratic Arizona governor Katie Hobbs has promised to veto the bill once if approved by the state Senate, it’s no coincidence that this is being introduced at the same time that Arizona rancher George Kelly, 75, is facing second-degree murder charges for allegedly shooting and killing Mexican migrant Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, 48, on his 170-acre property on Jan. 30, 2023. His trial is set for March 21, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors allege Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the group of migrants that included Cuen-Butimea, who were about 100 yards away, per the AP.

However, this is just one of the many anti-immigration laws that politicians have been trying to pass in other border states. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into state law Senate Bill 4, which would allow authorities to arrest undocumented immigrants if police suspected they had crossed the U.S. border through Texas. It was scheduled to take effect this upcoming Tuesday, March 5 but was blocked in court by U.S. District Judge David Ezra for reportedly violating the Constitution and other U.S. treaties. The state is also currently being sued by the federal government and immigration organizations. Texas has filed an appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, with Arizona’s new law specifically, it’s received backlash all across the state including from Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spokesperson Abhi Rahman, who says the bill is taking “one step closer to legalizing murder.”

“Make no mistake, this bill encourages Arizonians to shoot first and ask questions later,” he said to NBC.

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