Elected officials in the state are skeptical at best of a bipartisan proposal by U.S. senators for comprehensive immigration reform. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.
The proponents, led by Charles Schumer of New York and Arizona's own John McCain, promised on Monday this would truly be a comprehensive plan, including improving border security. At a Washington press conference, McCain conceded problems remain, saying, "the security situation along the Southwest border is not perfect. There remain several areas, particularly in Arizona, where people's home are being invaded, where drug smugglers are crossing property every night. And these citizens deserve the same level of security that all of us standing here have."
But, McCain cited figures showing marked improvement, saying apprehensions of illegal immigrants are down by 70%. None of that convinced state House Majority Leader David Gowan whose district includes Cochise County. He said the argument has been, "secure the border first, then we'll talk about the other things. And they want to flip it. So they don't want to listen to us down on the border regions in the state of Arizona. They just want to do what they want to do 2,500 miles away from here."
The plan also drew a skeptical response from Governor Jan Brewer. In a prepared statement, the governor said securing the border was promised before - in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan signed what was billed as comprehensive immigration reform. At that time, an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants gained legal status. Now there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, including about 4 hundred thousand in Arizona. State Senate President Andy Biggs called the move by the federal lawmakers out of step with what Arizona wants. But, House Speaker Andy Tobin said the U.S. senators are on the right track on at least one point unpopular with some of his Republican colleagues: The plan would provide legal status to the illegal immigrants already here. He said, "we're not going to be sending all these people home. So the answer is, I believe if they come in and register in some licensing format, even for a limited period of time, we might find out who they are, which could be very beneficial as well."
That puts Tobin in the same camp as John McCain who said that having 11 million people outside the system has created "a de facto amnesty."
The plan envisions that all those already here illegally would be immediately eligible for legal status the day the bill is signed, including the ability to work in this country legally. But getting a "green card" to make them a permanent legal immigrant - the first step toward citizenship - would have to wait until other things were accomplished - including securing the border. That led to a different concern from state House Minority Leader Anna Tovar. She noted that decision would be made by a panel of experts, including governors. "The selection of governors that could sit on this panel, I think can actually hold up the process in them feeling in their opinion that the border is never going to be secured," she said.
But Representative Carl Seel, like Governor Brewer, said he remembers what happened - and what didn't - in 1986. He maintained, "we need to defend the border first. The people need a good-faith gesture that the federal government is serious about protecting our nation. And after that, then we can have an intelligent discussion about amnesty."