Candidate And Grandson Of Chinese Immigrants Wants To Shut Off Utilities To Undocumented Immigrants

Barry Wong (R-AZ), a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission — which is responsible for final decisions on granting or denying utility rate adjustment, among other things — wants to save utility customers from future rate hike by shutting off the power, and other utilities, to undocumented immigrants. Wong, who is the grandson of Chinese immigrants, explained that his plan would require utility companies to verify the immigration status of new customers and weed out existing customers in the country illegally:

“We shoulder and we all share the costs,” said Wong, who is running for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission. “Granted they pay for it, but as we use more electricity overall then utilities will have to eventually build more power plants.” […] “The [state] constitution gives the Corporation Commission specific authority to deal with rate-making which is setting the price that we pay for the electric, natural gas, telephone service, private water companies,” Wong said. […]

Wong said he would give customers plenty of advance noticed before any utilities are shut off. “You wouldn’t shut down somebody’s power the next day. You put people on notice,” Wong said. “I think they have to make their own decisions. It’s an individual responsibility of how they’re going to take care of it themselves without the utility.”

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Wong’s opponents, two Republicans and three Democrats, have said that asking utilities to check customers’ immigration status is “inappropriate.” Even state Sen. Russell Pierce (R-AZ), the man who sponsored Arizona’s new immigration law and wants to deny citizenship to “anchor babies” doesn’t necessarily back Wong’s proposal. “That’s not an argument I think we’ll involve ourselves in,” said Pierce. The president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce had harsher words to offer. “Today is the third day in a row when Phoenix-area temperatures will reach 110 degrees or higher. Since you’re a native Phoenician, I don’t need to remind you of the peril our state’s most vulnerable residents face in our summer heat. To deny someone access to electricity based on his or her immigration status is not only a wrongheaded policy proposal, it’s just cruel,” wrote Glenn Hamer.

A spokesman from APS, the state’s largest electric utility, has stated “we are not even sure how we would implement a policy like this.” Chances are implementation would involve providing utility companies with highly sensitive personal identification information such as social security numbers. Privacy concerns aside, Wong has also not considered the costs associated with verifying the legal status of utility customers. When Colorado passed a series of stringent measures requiring applicants for most state benefits to prove their immigration status, it cost the state $2 million in its first year alone. Checking the immigration status of utility customers would cost astronomically more since almost every resident is probably a user of electricity. And if the recently approved law, SB-1070, succeeds in driving out the state’s undocumented immigrants, such a measure would generate little to no cost-saving effect.

In order for Wong’s proposal to be implemented the plan would have to be analyzed, go through a public hearing, and be approved by the majority of the five member commission.