Not in my state: Anti-immigration law doesn't reflect the beliefs of Arizona's people

By Phil Gordon
Saturday, April 24, 2010


As an immigration bill that nationally embarrasses Arizona becomes bad law, our best hope in my hometown is that the rest of America doesn't do to Arizona what Senate Bill 1070 requires our police officers to do to people with brown skin: "profile" them based on stereotypes and insufficient information.

Arizona is not a state seething with hatred, eager to trample the civil rights of residents in haphazard pursuit of illegal immigrants. Nor are most Arizonans bigots eager to drag our state back to the 1980s, when Gov. Evan Mecham's absurd behavior made our home a national laughingstock.

Our state is frustrated. We have become ground zero in the battle over illegal immigration because of years of lapsed federal border security. This week that frustration exploded, thanks to hateful political opportunists such as state Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of the legislation, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is already under investigation by the federal Justice Department for alleged violations of civil rights.

Pearce and Arpaio -- two men who are to Arizona law enforcement what George Wallace was to Alabama government -- care less about capturing human smugglers and drug cartel gunmen than they do about capturing headlines. And in a state with a far-right legislature that is increasingly out of step with an increasingly moderate population, they're also out of step with the rules of basic civility.

Anyone who points out that S.B. 1070 is surely unconstitutional is viciously attacked. One of Pearce's many broadsides even maliciously attacked the Catholic Church. Those unimpressed by the after-the-fact training for law enforcement proposed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer are brushed aside. Those who raise a concern about the legislation (perhaps noting that its "reasonable suspicion" standard for police stops of those who look illegal is overly broad) have been met not with facts but with slurs against their character, patriotism and respect for the Constitution.

We in Arizona do respect the Constitution, just as we respect the hard work and sacrifices of the many immigrants who have contributed to making our state a diverse, welcoming place. That respect has driven a series of massive, passionate counterprotests to this legislation, and it will continue to drive opposition from the center, the left and the moderate right. The opponents of S.B. 1070 are many in Arizona, a majority who can no longer be silent if the price of silence is allowing the vocal, spiteful few to rule: All of us, from business leaders to police chiefs, elected representatives to church groups, will continue to pressure Gov. Brewer. As we see it, the governor must call a special session of our legislature to fix the act's myriad flaws.

Until she does, we will explore every option available to quell the fear and frustration that have become rampant here. Already, I have called a special meeting of the Phoenix City Council to establish standing to sue the state on the grounds that S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally co-opts our police force to enforce immigration laws that are the rightful jurisdiction of the federal government.

The opponents of S.B. 1070 will continue to work with Washington to permanently secure the Arizona border, where last year 500,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended. Our aim is nothing short of comprehensive immigration reform, a new policy that cracks down on predators and criminals who have entered the United States illegally even as it establishes a path to legal residency for law-abiding immigrant neighbors who want nothing more than the chance to earn a paycheck and live a productive life.

The Arizona I've known since moving here from Chicago as a boy is the birthplace of C?sar Ch?vez; it's a free-thinking, hospitable state capable of balancing great natural beauty and cultures of all sorts. This place we've heard about lately, the Arizona willing to risk economic boycotts and international ridicule in the pursuit of an ugly, discriminatory law? I don't recognize it.

But I do recognize those responsible for this humiliating moment. They are bitter, small-minded and full of hate, and they in no way speak for Arizona.

The writer, a Democrat, has been mayor of Phoenix since 2004.

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