PHOENIX, Ariz. -- One day after Democrats in the State Legislature introduced a bill to repeal SB 1070, a bi-partisan coalition of business, faith and civic groups issued five guidelines emphasizing a humanitarian approach to immigration issues.
“We hope elected officials and government entities that deal with immigration will look to these five principles,” said Scott Higginson, who organized the effort behind the Arizona Accord, “and use them to frame the discussion and creation of new laws and regulations that are proposed.”
The accord was inspired by the Utah Compact, an agreement signed by leaders from that state’s business and faith community on Nov. 2010 and which drew on widespread support, including an endorsement from the Mormon Church.
Supporters of Arizona’s accord said it would help the state move away from the divisive climate created by SB 1070, which made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. The law was partially stayed by a federal court and is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The five principles delineated in the Arizona Accord place responsibility for resolving immigration issues on the federal government, emphasize respect for the rule of law, oppose policies that result in the separation of families, support a free-market economy that recognizes the contributions of immigrants and promotes a culture of inclusion.
“The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors,” reads part of the accord. “Arizona should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.”
Petra Falcón is executive director of Promesa Arizona, a grassroots group that promotes Latino voter registration. She endorsed the accord, saying that the recent recall of SB 1070’s sponsor, Republican Senator Russell Pearce, helped foster the creation of a new, more tolerant environment.
“The climate is different. Hopefully this year as they move forward into the Legislative session no bad bills will surface,” she said, adding that she’s looking for state legislators to switch gears and endorse more positive bills such as one that would make in-state tuition available again to undocumented immigrants.
“We need to keep moving forward,” she added.
Falcón said it was clear with Pearce’s recall that most Arizona voters –- including conservatives in Pearce’s own district who voted him out and replaced him with Republican Jerry Lewis -- want to end the divisiveness surrounding immigration discourse.
The accord, in fact, got the near immediate endorsement of Senator Lewis.
“It allows us to work under a set of principles that most people would agree on,” Lewis said in an interview with NAM.
Higginson, who did not seek endorsements from politicians in an effort to keep the accord non-partisan, said he would welcome anyone willing to sign on. Lewis is the first Republican legislator to endorse it.
“There’s good people on both sides of this issue, we have to understand it’s a high stakes and highly emotional issue. We have to be able to put aside a lot of the emotion and look at it in a practical way,” said Lewis.
Lewis rejected an earlier anti-SB1070 bill introduced by Democratic Senator Steve Gallardo, arguing it would revive the polarization the bill originally sparked in the state.
“Everyone needs to understand the accord isn't a law and it isn't intended to become one," said Richard Usher, board member and co-founder of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, which also endorsed the principles.
The city of Tolleson, along with Mesa’s Human Relations Advisory Board and the Human Relations Commission in Phoenix have given their backing. Higginson also credited the East Valley Patriots, a group that since last year has pushed for a similar set of principles in the city of Mesa.
Other supporters include former Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon, Dr. Peter Linkis, president emeritus of the University of Arizona, Jim Kolbe, a former Republican member of Congress, and Julie Erfle, the widow of Phoenix Police officer Nick Erfle, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record.
Several business associations also came on board, including: Greater Phoenix Leadership (GPL), Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), Arizona Farm Bureau, Western Growers, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Tucson Hispanic and the Chamber of Commerce.
“With our broken immigration system we have a serious threat to family life in Arizona,” said reverend Tex Sample, president of the Arizona Interfaith Network, in a statement. Sample’s was one of a number of religious groups supporting the accord. “Our present policy separates the members of many of these families and brings a desperate hardship on children. When you disturb the family, you tear at the very fabric of our community and our state.”
Joe Rubio, lead organizer for the Valley Interfaith Project (VIP), said that the accord “focuses on common sense solutions, not demagoguery, and it shows that good economics and a humane approach to immigration are not only possible but very necessary.”
Higginson, who took part in a recent conference hosted by Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform (AZEIR), said he hoped more supporters would join the call for a sensitive and reasonable approach to immigration.
The accord, he added, sends the message that “there are people who are reasonable in Arizona.”
Correction: An earlier version of the story left out mention of the East Valley Patriots, whose work in the city of Mesa was vital in helping to push through the Arizona Accord.
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