Stop failing Arizona; Start fixing immigration

The Arizona Republic

May 1, 2010

We need leaders.

The federal government is abdicating its duty on the border.

Arizona politicians are pandering to public fear.

The result is a state law that intimidates Latinos while doing nothing to curb illegal immigration.

This represents years of failure. Years of politicians taking the easy way and allowing the debate to descend into chaos.

The Arizona Republic has been calling for comprehensive immigration reform continuously since 2002. For a brief time, our congressional delegation led the nation on this front. But no more.

Now, it seems our elected officials prefer to serve political expediency instead.

Those who failed Arizona:

JAN BREWER was looking out for her political future, not Arizona's best interests, when she signed the anti-immigrant law that ignores Arizona's Latino heritage and creates a backlash that will hurt the state's economic development. The governor's GOP primary race would have been tougher if she'd vetoed the bill, so she ducked her responsibility to the people of Arizona. Now, she gets a bump in the polls, and Arizona gets beat up on the international stage.

JANET NAPOLITANO came down with amnesia after she abandoned her job as governor of Arizona and moved to Washington, D.C., to be Homeland Security secretary. Ensconced in a Democratic administration, she forgot all the arguments she once used to demand that the Bush administration address immigration reform and reimburse Arizona for the costs of the broken border. Put in charge of Obama's effort to craft immigration reform, she couldn't get the thing out of neutral.

JOHN McCAIN, the one-time maverick and former champion of comprehensive immigration reform, also came down with a convenient loss of memory and principle. Facing a primary race against J.D. Hayworth, whose demagoguery on this issue is practiced and predictable, Sen. McCain became a man afraid of his own record. He locked himself behind a door marked "Do not disturb until the border is secure." Here's some straight talk the senator should understand: The border cannot be secured as long as the current irrational border policies remain unchanged.

JON KYL was also brave enough - once upon a time - to work across the aisle for the sake of achieving comprehensive immigration reform. Now, he has linked arms with McCain in stonewalling. There may be little political advantage in helping a Democratic president and Congress achieve what Republicans could not, but Sen. Kyl's role in GOP Senate leadership should not be more important than fixing what's broken in his own state.

J.D. HAYWORTH is the mouth that spewed when it comes to illegal immigration. The former congressman used his seat in the House and his radio show to pound his chest and shout down every attempt to discuss the genuine complexity of this issue. He hasn't changed. Fear and anger are his sidekicks. Self-promotion is his noble steed. His diatribes helped validate a wickedly distorted image of all migrant workers as heinous criminals.

PHIL GORDON lashed out against the law in shrill tones that did not serve his state or city. The Phoenix mayor made a flamboyant call to challenge the new law in court without first consulting the City Council, then vowed to go around his fellow elected city officials when they disagreed with him.

RUSSELL PEARCE probably has done more than anyone in the state to turn this from a complex public-policy discussion into what seems like law sketched on a cocktail napkin. This legislation, his brainchild, shows how a narrow focus on persecuting illegal immigrants blinds him to the consequences of what he is doing. We wonder if state Sen. Pearce even considered rights of legal residents and Latino citizens. Or if he cares how his law introduces real fear into real people's lives.

RAÚL GRIJALVA also fails to see beyond a narrow band of self-interest. As a representative of a heavily Latino district, he faced no political risk in responding to a divisive law with an equally divisive call for a national boycott of Arizona. Grijalva, a U.S. representative, must know that lost convention business will hurt Arizonans who are struggling to keep their jobs in these tough times. For a congressman to call for destruction of his own state's economy is irresponsible and beneath contempt.

JOE ARPAIO and ANDREW THOMAS, a showboat tag team as sheriff and county attorney, were responsible for ratcheting up the heat and dimming any light on this issue. Arpaio's immigration sweeps stirred anti-immigrant sentiment and made "driving while Latino" a suspicious activity. Thomas' decision to use a law aimed at criminal smugglers to prosecute illegal immigrants was a perversion of that law-enforcement tool.

These politicians - Republicans and Democrats - used this issue to bait voters. Voters should get wise and demand leadership and solutions.

Despite the turmoil and passion surrounding this issue, there is a broad consensus that immigration is a federal responsibility and it demands federal action. State laws cannot fix it.

There is also agreement that Arizona suffers disproportionately because of federal border policies, as was seen Friday when a Pinal County sheriff's deputy was ambushed and shot by suspected drug smugglers.

Arizona can no longer afford to tolerate elected officials who show so little interest in solving one of the state's most pressing issues. We need leaders who will push to enact comprehensive reform. We need Arizona leadership - as a delegation all working together -sponsoring and spearheading federal legislation to fix immigration.

Reform must secure the border so that the people entering this country are doing so legally and we know who they are. It must eliminate the access to jobs that migrants are willing to risk their lives to reach. It must include an efficient system to verify worker eligibility and tough sanctions for employers who hire the undocumented.

It must provide a path to legalization that has to be earned by the current undocumented population. If they choose not to earn it, they choose not to be citizens and live in this country.

Reform must create a legal pipeline for future workers that is demand-based and temporary. With a legal framework in place, there will be no reason to be in this country without permission. Foreigners who break our laws will be prosecuted, punished and deported.

Comprehensive reform will make the border safer. When migrant labor is channeled through the legal ports of entry, the Border Patrol can focus on catching drug smugglers and other criminals instead of chasing busboys across the desert.

Real leaders will have the courage to say that. Real leaders are what we need.

Arizona, our time for excuses is over.

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