Phoenix – Republican office-holders, business leaders and law enforcement officials from Arizona, Utah and Georgia made an appeal Thursday for practical and fair solutions to the problem of illegal immigration.
The call came on the eve of the first anniversary of the Utah Compact, which outlined a balanced approach to immigration and opened the door to the creation of a guest-worker program in the state.
The compact became a basis for discussion of viable solutions at a time when states such as Arizona were contemplating harsh anti-immigration laws, Utah's GOP attorney general said in a telephone press conference organized by the National Immigration Forum.
Mark Shurtleff said this week's defeat of Arizona state Senate leader Russell Pearce, an anti-immigration firebrand, in a recall election shows the need for a change in Republicans' rhetoric on immigration.
Pearce, the sponsor of the controversial SB 1070 law, lost to fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, a charter school executive and political newcomer who takes a more moderate stand on immigration.
Enacted in April 2010, SB 1070 aims to criminalize the presence of undocumented immigrants in Arizona, chiefly by requiring state and local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
The U.S. Justice Department challenged the legislation and a federal court blocked enforcement of the "show me your papers" provision pending a final decision on the law's constitutionality.
"The Utah Compact had a tremendous influence in the state of Arizona and the recent recall election," Lewis said Thursday during the NIF press conference, citing a poll that shows 78 percent of Arizonans back the idea of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Paul Bridges, the Republican mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, said people in his state are also anxious for a real solution to the problem and that such a solution can only come from the federal government.
Georgia, one of several states that have adopted tough anti-immigration measures inspired by Arizona's SB 1070, is already seeing a shortage of immigrant workers to harvest onions, berries and peaches, Bridges said.
"Thanks to Russell Pearce and his anti-immigrant agenda, Arizona has been painted as an area of racial extremism, but that is not our heritage nor is our history," the state's former attorney general, Terry Goddard, said Thursday, pointing to Lewis' triumph at the polls.
The executive vice president of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, Jason Mathis, credited the Utah Compact with helping to change the national conversation about immigration.