After Recall, Arizona Considers More Humane Treatment of Immigrants

Valeria Fernandez


From New America Media: MESA, Ariz.--Now that the architect of Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant bill (SB 1070) has been recalled by voters and no longer represents Mesa, a group of citizens wants to take the immigration issue up a notch. They propose that the city adopt guiding principles that focus on keeping immigrant families together and enforcing the law in a humanitarian way.


For over a year, the East Valley Patriots, a bipartisan faith-based organization, has pushed for Mesa to pass its own version of the Utah Compact, signed in that state in November 2010. The group is gaining momentum after the recall of Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, who was defeated in District 18 by Jerry Lewis, another Republican.


Compact Opposes Dividing Families

The Mesa Compact stands in contrast to laws such as SB 1070, which made it a crime in Arizona subject to incarceration to be an undocumented immigrant. The statute was partially stayed by a federal court. The Mesa Compact says the city would follow the rule of law but oppose measures that would result in dividing families by deportation.


“Now is time to begin the healing process,” said Dan Martinez, of the East Valley Patriots during a public comment period at the Mesa City Council on Monday.


But not everyone agrees that the recall brought healing to the political divisions on immigration in one of Arizona’s most conservative cities.


“You don’t heal when you ask people to give up the rule of law,” said Bill Dowdy, 51 and a real estate agent. “There’s a common principle upon which this country was founded and it wasn’t to make exceptions to the law.”


Dowdy said he feels the recall group was spearheaded by outside interests that “stole his representative” and that adopting the Mesa Compact would be more of the same.


“They divided us more than anything they could have done,” he said.


Mormon Church Endorsed Utah Compact

Utah passed its Compact with the endorsement of the Mormon Church – which is also deeply rooted in Mesa, and counts former Sen. Pearce among its members.


“The church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand,” said the Mormon Church in a statement last year.


Sen. Lewis, a former Mormon bishop, also cited his support for the Compact during his campaign. However, some members of the Mormon Church in Mesa are not on board with adopting the Utah Compact.


“It will effectively make Mesa a sanctuary city,” said Courtney Snell, 59. He raised his eyebrows at the idea of his church supporting the Utah Compact. “They didn’t sign it,” he said. Snell also questioned the practical impact of adopting the principles.


 The Mesa Compact wouldn’t be legally binding, but a symbolic gesture, said Saúl Solis, a member of the East Valley Patriots.


If adopted in Mesa, it could be taken to other Arizona cities to build momentum. “It would be like a domino effect. Maybe it will take hold and it can be something to take to the state legislature,” said Solis. “We would like to see eventually that they won’t introduce any anti-immigrant bills.”


Will Compact Be on January Agenda?

The Mesa Human Relations Advisory Board, a citizens’ committee, voted unanimously to adopt and recommend the Mesa Compact to the City Council last May.


But is up to the City Council to decide whether it wants to put this item on their agenda to discuss and possibly vote on at its January meeting.


“There’s got to be a solution; there has to be an answer. You think of all the things that we have in this world that we can’t agree on. This should be one that we can come up and find some sort of solution,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, following public comments at the Monday meeting.


Smith, who wasn’t available for an interview, said in a previous report by New America Media that he supports the Utah Compact but that it was “unwise” to take something crafted for Utah and try to apply it in Arizona.


“In this discussion in Mesa, you need to be very careful not to incite flames that have been somewhat lessened,” he said.


Randy Parraz, cofounder of Citizens for a Better Arizona and one of the key people behind the Pearce recall, also addressed the City Council during the public comment section.


“Tonight is not about whether or not you support the Mesa Compact. It is whether you support the right of an issue like this to come from the bottom up, from actual citizens who would like you to consider it,” Parraz said.

--New America Media

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