Arizona AG Mark Brnovich On Immigration Lawsuit, Opioids Settlement

By Steve Goldstein, Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, February 5, 2021 - 11:56am
Updated: Saturday, February 6, 2021 - 8:07am

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Mark Brnovich
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Mark Brnovich at KJZZ in August 2019.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Arizona Attorney General (AG) Mark Brnovich this week sued the Biden administration over an order to pause deportations — that came after a federal judge in Texas temporarily put the order on hold. The AG has also announced a multistate, multibillion dollar settlement with the consulting firm McKinsey related to the opioid epidemic, which will bring money to Arizona to help deal with the crisis. And Attorney General Brnovich joins us to talk about these and other issues. Mark, let's start with immigration. You filed a lawsuit to try to stop the new policy regarding deportations being paused for 100 days. What's the suit about, and why are you troubled by this?

MARK BRNOVICH: Basically, the Biden administration issued an order to halt essentially all deportations for the next hundred days, and we believe that that is contrary to existing federal law and it's also inconsistent with the memorandum of understanding we have with the Department of Homeland Security. In short, federal law 8 U.S.C. 1231 clearly says that the Department of Homeland Security shall remove an alien within 90 days after an issue of order of removal. And so instead, what's happening now is not only are people not being deported, but people were being released into our communities. And I have a real concern, especially after talking to the sheriffs on the border, talking with elected officials in southern Arizona, that there was people that had been convicted of crimes, people charged with felonies, and people that may have not even been tested for COVID-19 or testing positive being released into our communities. And so I think that's a big, big problem. And, you know, you guys, we've talked about this before, but I think philosophically, you have to have some sort of comprehensive immigration policy in this country. But that means Congress has to do it. You can't do it via executive order. And, you know, our lawsuit only involves this order regarding deportation.

MARK BRODIE: In terms of the timeline that you're concerned about, what is it about those extra 10 days? Because if there's a hundred-day pause and people have to be deported within 90 days, it doesn't seem like there's that much of a difference in terms of the amount of time that somebody might be in the country.

BRNOVICH: Well, it's about the cumulative effect, Mark. So when you halt deportations for 100 days, it raises safety concerns because now you're in a situation where you have overcrowding in facilities and they are forced to release individuals. And remember, it's not just about those 100-day pause. Part of the concern is, is that you got a 100-day pause, but what happens if they extended for another hundred days? What happens if they extend it for 200 days? So you have this principle where the president is essentially unilaterally rewriting federal immigration law. And I think that's not correct. And in this instance, I think it's doubly problematic because of the potential for harm to Arizonans.

GOLDSTEIN: Mark, I have to ask this just because this is such a loaded issue for everyone, becomes such an emotional issue. When you talk about people being released into the streets, for some, that's going to sound like something that is is really extreme and almost trying to scare folks — that's that's not your, your M.O., but it does sound like that's, that's to the extreme setting on this. Is that something that, that you would really be concerned about on a day-to-day basis? Or would that be in a case where, where frankly, people who are handling these things are mishandling it?

BRNOVICH: Steve, we know that before the [temporary restraining order] (TRO) was issued in Texas, the 27 individuals released just in the Phoenix area in the first three days. So it's happening. Part of the reason, just once again for background purposes, we literally, when this happened, when this Biden administration issued this order, we literally reached out to Homeland Security. We reached out to immigration officials and said, "Can you please talk to us? Can we coordinate? Can we have a conversation?" And they blew us off. And literally the day before we filed this lawsuit, my chief of staff had sent an email to them again, urging them, asking them, "What's going on? Will you talk to us?" And they essentially, in [a] two paragraph letter response, finally responded back to us. And in the two paragraphs, they essentially told us five different ways to pound sand. So there was a really dismissive attitude by federal immigration officials. And I will say that if your goal is trying to address this issue long term-wise, the way to create momentum or the way to address it is not by blowing off the border sheriffs, not by telling the attorney general to pound sand and not by releasing people into the community that could be potentially dangerous.

BRODIE: Mark, let's switch gears for just a moment. I want to ask you about a settlement that your office and a number of other attorneys general reached with McKinsey about their role in the opioid epidemic. This a lot of money that will be coming to Arizona. Where do you see that money going in terms of trying to help deal with the state's opioid crisis?

BRNOVICH: It is just one step on the long road of trying to address this crisis. So there was a group of 47 AGs that settled with a consulting firm that we allege had basically turbo-charged the opioid crisis by providing marketing and [public relations] (PR) assistance and help to the opioid manufacturers in fueling the opioid crisis. So this is an important first step. Arizona received about $13 million that will be used for education, treatment and prevention. And I know that it's just one part of the overall solution that we need. But, you know, I know from the criminal justice perspective, we as a state, I think, have not done enough to address putting resources towards treatment and prevention of drug addiction and opioid-related problems. And the problem is, by the time we see these issues as prosecutors, you know, you already have people in the system — it's too late. So, you know, I'm a big firm believer. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So this money will be dedicated, ear, earmarked towards the education, prevention and treatment of opioid related addiction and the crisis here in Arizona.

GOLDSTEIN: Mark, I want to ask you a couple of political questions before we let you go. You know, you were one of the few — and you got a lot of credit for this — when you went on, on Fox News after the election flak and said that there was no conspiracy, that there was no widespread voter fraud, that, you know, why would Adrian Fontes have lost his race in Maricopa County as the recorder if there were some big conspiracy? And now we're seeing this continued battle between the state Senate and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. In your position, as A.G., I'm not sure how you can answer this specifically, but just very curious to see your perspective on what continues to be this battle at this point within the GOP over whether there was actual voter fraud. I mean, these are elected officials who are from the same party who are fighting over this.

BRNOVICH: Yeah, it's really a very complex answer in some ways, Steve, and I think we need more time. But the short answer to this is that, you know, right after the election occurred, we actually sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors urging them to more than double the end audit. And they were dismissive and said that, no, they didn't need to do that. And, and I recognize — I think people are concerned about the election results, or they were concerned about the election results. And I think there are things that could have been done on the front end to address some of those concerns so we wouldn't be in this fight right now. I do not know what will happen as far as the fight between the Legislature and the county board of Supervisors, but I'm hoping that it's something that could be resolved. To me, and once again, I just, my, my kind of gut reaction on this — I don't know why they can't sit down and agree to a consultant that can, you know, oversee the process of, of doing this audit.

BRODIE: Well, one of the concerns that the Board of Supervisors has brought up is that they don't think they have the legal authority to turn over some of what the Senate wants. And they're saying, you know, "Look, if the Senate wants this stuff, they should just go to court and have a judge tell us that it's OK for us to turn it over." I mean, do they have a point there? Is that, would that be a better approach than, you know, threatening to arrest the Board of Supervisors?

BRNOVICH: Well, you know, in the society we live in today, everyone has their own attorney. And so the Board of Supervisors have their attorneys and the Legislature has their attorneys. And I'm sure they're getting, you know, different legal advice. But, yeah, it ultimately, it seems like the court's going to have to settle this. So the court's going to at some point have to say, "Yes, the statute trumps this other statute," because, you know, you have this tension within what the Legislature is relying on versus what the Board of Supervisors are relying upon. But as I was saying earlier, I just, seems to me that the answer is, is that, you know, whether it's an arbitration or mediation, that, you know, the Senate says, you know, "These are the people we think should do the audit." And the Board of Supervisors says, "No, we think this is the approach." And maybe you have a third party say, "Well, this is what we all agree upon." But I do think that ultimately it seems like the road we're on now is you're going to have to get a judge, going to have to get a court to say, "Yes, they can turn it over" or "No, they can't."

GOLDSTEIN: OK, we will stop there. That is Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Mark, thanks as always, for joining us.

BRNOVICH: Right on, guys. Thank you very much.

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