WASHINGTON -- Federal inaction on comprehensive immigration reform has forced the issue on state and local leaders, but Arizona-style approaches are not the solution, a group of mayors was told Wednesday.
Local immigration laws like Arizona's SB 1070 are a step in the wrong direction, said Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy for the Center for American Progress.
"As elected leaders, I implore you to stop the efforts of anti-immigrant bills," Kelley told about 15 mayors at an immigration reform session at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention. "It will not solve the problem of illegal immigration in your states."
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who participated in the immigration session, both said Arizona faced unwanted scrutiny and economic harm because of SB 1070, the state's sweeping 2010 illegal immigration law.
"Not only is it bad for business, it's bad for politicians," said Rothschild, citing the successful Nov. 8 recall of Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce, the champion of SB 1070. "We need to get that message out."
But Arizona state Sen. Ron Gould said SB 1070 continues to be popular throughout the state, even among many Latino voters. He noted that other states have adopted immigration bills patterned after Arizona's.
"There is a split among the Hispanic population about immigration," Gould said. "People continue to take SB 1070 out of context."
He said the opposition of Stanton and Rothschild is not surprising, noting that SB 1070 was aimed directly at Phoenix and Tucson because those cities had become "sanctuary cities" for illegal immigrants.
But Rothschild said the fallout following SB 1070′s passage is an example to other states that strong anti- immigration legislation is not politically advantageous. That is especially true because of the growing demographic nationwide of Latino voters, who Stanton are an increasingly important voting bloc.
"In my race for mayor, young Latinos were actively involved," Stanton said. "They are now going to be permanent fixtures in elections."
Kelley said several polls show that two-thirds of Americans support some form of a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already living in the country illegally.
"The American people are a practical people," she said. "They just want a solution. And they want to be sure people are paying their fair share in taxes and they're in the system and we know who the heck they are.
"All would be achievable if we could get past the paralysis in Washington," she said.
Gould, a Lake Havasu Republican, questioned the validity of such polls and said most people who support pathways to citizenship prefer that illegal immigrants first leave the country to file an application.
Stanton said business leaders need to reach out to lawmakers to show the economic benefits immigrants can provide. Educated and skilled immigrants should be allowed to bring their talents to the country, he said.
"Being in favor of federal policy doesn't mean you're weak on border security," Stanton said. "We need the business community to step up to the plate … they're the ones who can bring both parties together."
Wednesday's immigration session drew mayors from Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Oregon and Texas, among other states.
Rothschild said the gathering of about 250 mayors in Washington, D.C., allows for a better understanding of the issues - like immigration - facing cities across the nation.
"Although (immigration) obviously impacts border communities like Tucson to a significant degree, it impacts the whole country," he said. "What we're experiencing in Tucson, what we're experiencing in Phoenix, is no different than any place in the country."