What would Republican candidates for governor do to secure Arizona's border with Mexico?

Families and single adults wait with their papers in hand to be processed by Border Patrol agents. The group of about 30 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally near Somerton, Arizona, on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

From bombing tunnels to bringing back tent cities to surging the military, leading Republican candidates for Arizona governor have made touting proposals to secure the state's southern border a priority in their campaigns.

Their plans seek to address an issue that consistently ranks top of mind for many Arizona voters, and one that is increasingly politicized.

The Republican candidates are each seeking to send a message that they are the person able to end the crisis at the border if voters choose them to replace Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who leaves office early next year. Some of their pledges are hampered by the limited role of states, because immigration policy and enforcement falls to the federal government. 

As Ducey has shown by dedicating funding to drug patrols, deploying the National Guard and criticizing the Biden administration, there are some steps a governor can take, however.

The Republican candidates for Arizona governor are Paola Tulliani Zen, Matt Salmon, Karrin Taylor Robson, Scott Neely and Kari Lake. Their names will appear on the primary ballot on Aug. 2, seeking their party's nomination for the November election.

Here's what they say they will do at the border, if they are elected.

Finishing the wall

Kari Lake speaks at the Save America rally held by former President Donald Trump in Florence on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

All five candidates pledge to finish the border wall that was a centerpiece of former President Donald Trump's first campaign and term in office.

Only 18 miles of the project remained incomplete in Arizona as of January 2021, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson at the time. Yet because the Biden administration has put a stop to new barrier construction, the candidates might have difficulty fulfilling their pledges with a Democrat in the White House.

Lake, the former Fox 10 news anchor, has pledged to veto any state budget that doesn't fund finishing the wall on state and federal land. Taylor Robson, a former member of the Board of Regents, wants to finish the border wall "wherever possible." Salmon, a former Congressman, says he would enhance and build the border wall using both physical barrier and technology.

"I intend to do everything that I can to try to finish that wall up to and including challenging the federal government at every turn," he said. The candidates have not said how much finishing the wall would cost. Based on construction costs during the Trump administration, a ballpark figure would be in the hundreds of millions.

Lake, Salmon and Taylor Robson all have said they would try to use leftover border construction materials purchased during Trump's tenure to finish the barrier. They also all said they would seek to work with tribes that control much of the border land to create barriers there.

A complete wall along Arizona's more than 370-mile southern border is unlikely for other reasons, too, including that 62 miles cuts through the Tohono O’odham Nation, which opposes barrier construction.

Declaring an 'invasion'

Former U.S. representative Matt Salmon, a candidate for Arizona governor, speaks during the Turning Point Action event at the Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Former president Donald Trump spoke later during the event. This is Donald Trump's first post-presidency visit to Arizona.

Lake and Salmon both have said they would use an untested legal strategy to give the state power to police the border and turn migrants away. The tactic is pushed by former Trump administration officials, including former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli.

The candidates want to declare an invasion under Article 1 Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, a move that they say would allow the state to take on federal enforcement responsibilities. Under that clause, states cannot take actions — like declaring war or entering into compacts with other states — without permission of Congress "unless actually invaded."

But making such a declaration violates U.S. Supreme Court precedent and a federal law that says only the U.S. attorney general can deputize states to take on duties typically reserved for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to Ahilan Arulanantham, co-director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. 

That means Salmon and Lake's plan likely would meet costly and time consuming legal challenges that make delivering on those campaign pledges unlikely.

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In her policy proposal, Lake acknowledges that precedent. She argues, however, that "statute does not supersede the Constitution. If Washington refuses to honor its constitutional requirements, states have every recourse and responsibility to take matters into their own hands."

Taylor Robson, a more traditional conservative candidate, frequently calls the border situation an "invasion," though she has not committed to attempting the strategy furthered by her opponents in the primary race.

The "invasion" language used by the candidates echoes anti-immigrant sentiment championed by Trump during his two bids for office.

Arizona businesswoman and former regent Karrin Taylor Robson formally kicks off her campaign to run as a Republican for Arizona governor at the Eastmark community center in Mesa on September 20, 2021.

Lynn Marcus, director of the Community Immigration Law Placement Clinic at the University of Arizona College of Law, noted other risks of this approach. Consequences could go beyond complicated and costly court cases into human rights violations and hampering international relations, Marcus said.

"When you get in there and you say, 'We're going to deport all undocumented people,' you're throwing the federal scheme and the will of Congress out the window," Marcus said. "And you're violating human rights and you're intervening in foreign policy, making a general mess of things."

The candidates argue it's Joe Biden who has made a mess of things at the border. 

Lake, Salmon and Taylor Robson each oppose Biden's effort to lift Title 42, a public health policy that allowed the U.S. to expel asylum seekers. Despite weighing in on that federal policy, none of the three candidates would state directly whether they supported restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era immigration policy that allows children living in the U.S. illegally to remain here.

Eligibility was limited by the Trump administration and more recently court rulings have prevented new people from entering the program.

Here are the other ideas the Republican candidates for Arizona's top office are proposing.

Kari Lake

An attendee holds a sign in support of Kari Lake while Lake takes the stage to deliver a speech before former President Donald Trump's speech in Florence on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

At a rodeo-themed rally in March, Lake said she would blow up tunnels used by smugglers beneath the border, which she said "would actually be fun."

She added: "I don't care if these narco-terrorists are inside when they blow up." Her policy proposal says Arizona National Guard troops would destroy the tunnels, shoot down drones, and turn migrants away or arrest them at the border, though congressional researchers have said it is unlikely military forces can be used for such law enforcement actions.

Lake's border plan largely ignores the limited role of state government and would undoubtedly meet opposition from the Biden administration.

"I don't care what Joe Biden says, he's an illegitimate president, and if he wants to try to stop us, then he can come down here and try to stop us," Lake said. In a interview about her border plan that lasted about 20 minutes, Lake turned three times to the 2020 election, which she claims was stolen, despite any evidence to support that.

Lake wants to create an interstate compact to oversee border operations and make it "crystal clear that the states are sovereign and have every right to secure the borders of the United States." That will allow states to create a border security force that will arrest, detain and return migrants, she says.

Lake wants to use state resources to make more trespassing arrests, even of migrants who willingly surrender to border agents. She wants to create a border court within the state system to handle those cases. She has not provided estimates for how much her complete plan would cost.

She said she will work with the Legislature to pass a law to create a public database of charges and convictions against "illegal immigrants" and a bill to revamp civil asset forfeiture laws to seize property belonging to "suspected or known" criminals affiliated with cartels or human trafficking. 

In 2016, Kari Lake proposed offering amnesty for the 11 million immigrants here illegally.

Lake's opponents note a 2016 Facebook post in which she said then-candidate Trump's plan to deport 11 million people in the country illegally would be impossible. At the time, she proposed allowing those people to stay in the country if they passed background checks and proposed a paperwork based process to allow those people to avoid deportation.

Asked about the post, Lake said she hadn't changed her position or preference for hard-line enforcement. "I'm throwing out ideas to get a discussion going," she said of the post. "I'm not putting an opinion out. It's called getting a discussion going amongst people."

See Lake's full policy proposal on her website at KariLake.com

Karrin Taylor Robson

Arizona businesswoman and former regent Karrin Taylor Robson, right, and former Arizona governor Jan Brewer wave to the crowd after Taylor Robson spoke to formally kick off her campaign to run as a Republican for Arizona governor at the Eastmark community center in Mesa on September 20, 2021.

The former developer and member of the Board of Regents has a six-point border plan that calls for: surging the National Guard; calling an emergency session of the Legislature; finishing the border wall; boosting surveillance technology; opposing sanctuary policies; and working alongside other states.

"Our borders overrun, there is an invasion taking place. It's a national security issue. But more importantly, based on what I have learned on my multiple trips down there, it's a human tragedy unfolding," she said, adding the tragedy was human smuggling and sex and drug trafficking.

Taylor Robson said Arizona should increase the number of National Guard troops already called into duty within border communities to "as many as we possibly can."

Robson has pledged to cut funding to any local government that puts sanctuary city policies in place. That's not likely to happen as those policies already are banned under state law. She said her funding threat would send a message that those policies continue to be unwelcome in Arizona.

More: Kari Lake has repeatedly attacked John McCain's legacy. His family says they feel betrayed

She would, following her election, call the Legislature in for a special session to increase drug and human trafficking penalties and trespassing offenses for people on state and private property at the border. She wants to boost funding for state police, Ducey's Border Strike Force and other enforcement, though she didn't have an estimate of how much money was needed.

She also wants to give better technology to law enforcement to combat cartels.

Taylor Robson said she would join a compact with other states to share resources and intelligence to interdict cartels "and other threats we jointly face."

"What sets my border security plan apart from my opponents’ is that my plan is comprehensive and constitutional," Taylor Robson said in a statement.

See Taylor Robson's full policy proposal on her website at KarrinForArizona.com.

Matt Salmon

Matt Salmon

The former congressman says his plan will help get operational control of the border in his first 100 days in office, meaning "there won't be the numbers of people coming across the border illegally" and that prevalence of drug and human trafficking will decrease, too.

"On day one, I'm going to declare a state of emergency at the border," Salmon said. "I will proceed to use my bully pulpit and every means necessary to get the cartels designated as a terrorist organization, which I believe would enable the states and the federal government and international allies to do a lot more to stop" drug and human trafficking.

He wants to create a no-trespassing zone, a physical space where he said border crossers would have to turn back or face arrest. Salmon said National Guard troops would issue warnings in the zone, and people who get arrested would go to tent jails.

Salmon will deploy 1,200 armed National Guard troops — with 120 rounds of ammunition each — to known smuggling routes and elsewhere along the border.

Those measures, he said, would eventually serve as a deterrent for criminal activity.

"It will send a message to them that they should look elsewhere if they want to try that kind of illegal activity," he said. 

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He said he wants to refine Ducey's Border Strike Force within the Department of Public Safety, to refocus those additional law enforcement officers at the border. The unit, which targets drug trafficking and other crimes, has faced criticism for its effectiveness and drug busts that are far afield from the southern border.

Salmon wants to spend hundreds of millions to boost the capacity of law enforcement and prosecutors, and is the only candidate to put dollar figures on his plan thus far. Salmon's plan calls for $200 million in spending, $140 million for mobilizing the National Guard and $60 million to bolster law enforcement resources and prosecutions. The tent jails would be additional to those costs.

See Salmon's full policy proposal on his website at MattSalmonForAZ.com.

Scott Neely

Neely, who owns multiple concrete businesses in Mesa, said he would use Arizona's share of the American Rescue Plan to build three barracks to "keep a constant presence of National Guard at the border."

Those soldiers would not have weapons, he said, because he sees that as threatening to Mexico. Under his leadership, the guard troops would help with paperwork and processing, taking on an administrative support role much like during Ducey's administration.

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He said he would replicate Salmon's plan to put migrants in tent cities, noting they would be un-air conditioned, and seek to create a program with Mexico to get migrants who practice trades to train citizens in skills like concrete finishing. Neely suggested the migrants could receive dual citizenship for participating, something that would require the approval of the federal government.

He said ending Title 42 would be a "disaster" that would increase the amount of "invaders" entering the country. Neely said he supported citizenship for young people brought here illegally as long as they are not engaged in criminal activity or have past serious convictions.

See more of Neely's proposal on his website at NeelyForGovernor.com.

Paola Tulliani Zen

Tulliani Zen, a former business owner from Scottsdale, said that if elected she would convene a meeting with the state's sheriffs, who serve as leading law enforcers in each of their 15 counties, within her first week. 

She wants to work with them to determine an action plan, but pledges to boost state funding to those law enforcement agencies and provide more deputies as part of her campaign platform. Tulianni Zen wants local officers to deport migrants, which only federal agents can do. 

She suggested but did not commit to using tent jails. “If we have to put tents up, it's temporary," she said, to send a message that illegal crossings are not tolerated.

National Guard troops will help reinforce law enforcement efforts, she said. Tulliani Zen wants to finish the border wall and will advocate for the federal government to increase court resources to expedite immigration hearings and proceedings. She wants to work with other U.S. governors and Mexican leaders to create a deterrent plan.

"The governor, attorney general, and Arizona sheriffs need to organize and execute a strategy to protect our Americans," her policy page reads. "Unfortunately, the wall and technology can only be effective when the laws on immigration and the method of claiming asylum are reformed."

Read Tulliani Zen's policy highlights on her website PaolaTullianiForGovernor.com.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.