Posted on July 8, 2004

Illegal Immigration A Hot Topic In Arizona

Rob Hotakainen,, July 6, 2004

Juan Huerta hoped it would be another lucky day in America as he munched tamales at a picnic table in the parking lot of a day-labor center, keeping a close eye on the white men who drove by in their big pickups.

It was 7 a.m., and the men were searching for Mexican laborers who would spend the day in the 108-degree sun doing roofing, landscaping and cement work. Huerta, who came to Phoenix two years ago, waited for the one employer who might pay him $8 an hour, maybe even $10, in exchange for his specialized carpentry skills. He called it good money, twice as much as he could earn in his native Mexico.

“I like America, good America,” said Huerta, 25, speaking in broken English.

Lured by the promise of a better life, Mexican immigrants are rushing to Arizona in unprecedented numbers, complicating the politics of a state that’s expected to play a key role in the Nov. 2 presidential election.

Once a reliably Republican state that produced conservative icon Barry Goldwater, Arizona is now officially up for grabs as Democrats and Republicans are busy wooing Latinos.

In the latest poll by the Arizona Republic newspaper, President Bush had a narrow 44 percent to 41 percent lead over his presumed Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. A separate poll found Latinos backing Kerry by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

Latinos, who now make up nearly 25 percent of Arizona’s population, could easily decide whether Bush carries the state in 2004, as he did in 2000. But Bush’s critics say the president risks alienating conservative voters with his plan to make it easier for immigrants to stay in the United States.

The backlash is growing, led by a group called Protect Arizona Now, which complains the government is being too loose in giving aid to immigrants.

Last week, PAN announced it had collected more than 122,000 signatures to force a vote on a ballot initiative that would require Arizona public agencies to verify immigrant status before giving any aid.

Backers of the measure say that undocumented workers are bilking the system and that the state isn’t doing enough to s it.

“Go to the welfare office — you can shoot off a cannon in there and there isn’t anybody speaking English,” said Kathy McKee, the group’s chairwoman.

She also opposes the day-labor center, calling it an illegal operation, and is frustrated that federal authorities aren’t cracking down on it.

Salvador Reza, who runs the Macehualli Work Center in northeast Phoenix, laughs heartily at the idea: “They could do it, but then they would have a war on their hands.” He said that’s the last thing Bush wants during a re-election campaign.

Reza said that most of the Mexicans who risk their lives by walking through the desert to get work in the United States are not interested in becoming U.S. citizens, only in working here. He said the day-labor center is simply a testament to free trade.

“The United States claims to be a free-market country, yet they don’t see this as a free-market movement,” Reza said. “If you understand outsourcing, then you have to understand insourcing.”

Arizona is spending $1.3 billion per year to pay for the extra costs of medical care, education and incarceration for illegal immigrants, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The group estimates that at least 425,000 illegal residents are living in the state.

McKee said that state taxpayers no longer can afford those costs. She said the ballot initiative has broad support in Arizona and that Bush is squarely on the wrong side of the immigrant issue in Arizona, the nation’s second-fastest-growing state.

“I think it’s going to cost him the election,” she said. “It’s a sign — it’s a real symbol — that he’s not listening to his supporters.”

In the presidential campaign of 2000, Bush expressed sympathy for Mexicans who entered the United States illegally to find work.

In 2001, he made his first foreign trip to Mexico and told President Vicente Fox that the United States would do “everything we can to come up with a solution to this complex problem.”

But answers have been elusive, with Bush finding himself caught between two Republican constituencies: businesses that want a supply of cheap, low-skill labor and conservatives who say it’s unfair to reward those who entered the country illegally.

The president angered many of his supporters with his plan to relax immigration laws by creating a guest-worker program that would grant renewable three-year labor visas for those who already have come to the United States or those who have received job offers here.

Bush’s proposal has languished in Congress and is opposed by Kerry, who says it’s a temporary fix and would lock immigrant workers into a second-class status.

Kerry, who was campaigning in Phoenix last week, favors a plan that would make it easier for working immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

That’s frustrating to people such as McKee, who says she won’t vote for either Kerry or Bush.

“To me, it just looks like it’s one party, and the will of the American people doesn’t count,” she said. “They’re going to try to force open borders.”

In Washington, many members of Congress have been complaining loudly that the Bush administration is not doing enough to secure the borders, especially since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon nearly three years ago.

At an immigration hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this year, David Aguilar, now chief of the Border Patrol with the Department of land Security, called Arizona “the most active area that we have in the country right now.” He told Congress that the agency is not involved in “roundups or sweeps” of undocumented immigrants who are already in the United States.

Peggy Neely, a member of the Phoenix City Council, said that many people in Phoenix were disappointed when they realized the federal government “is not real excited to take care of this issue.” But she said that opening the day-labor center provided a practical solution.

Neely, a Republican, supports Bush and doesn’t blame the lack of enforcement on his administration, saying 9/11 forced the government to focus more on safety and less on tracking undocumented immigrants, particularly if they pose no criminal threat.

“There’s not enough people for them to do both,” she said.

Reza said there’s an easy solution: Let the marketplace do its thing. “All of this stupidity could be solved with allowing a free flow of labor,” he said. “There’s a supply here, and there’s a demand.”

On an average day, 120 day-laborers show up at the center at 5 a.m., when employers begin showing up. On a good day, 60 to 70 laborers will get work. Employees sit on picnic tables by a chain-link fence, keeping cool under tarpaulins that provide a little shade. Each worker gets a number, and jobs are doled out under a raffle system. If a worker gets a job, he’s asked to donate a dollar to the center to help pay for lights, the bathrooms and trash pickup.

Huerta said he shows up often. In a good week, he said, he can earn $400. Reza said most businesses are backing the center, however reluctantly. “They have mixed feelings, but they have to deal with reality,” he said.

Comments from Readers

From: John

Bush should be turned out for his immigration proposal in January alone. Not only was he basically going to give amnesty to millions of illegals, he was going to allow businesses to offer jobs to more foreigners through a “guest worker program”. What an idiot. What betrayal. We should never allow another Bush in the White House. Have these people never had any real contact with Americans outside their well-to-do circle of family and friends?

From: RobertB

I’ve decided to break a 144 year old custom in my family and vote for a non-Republican. I’m voting for Nader- yep, Nader. Nader is the only candidate who will even talk about immigration. It is the national question but no one in the media or mainstream politics will let it be discussed honestly in the open.

From: Nostradamus Smith

John, Kerry would be no better when it comes to illegals. Considering his background and “party” he would likely hasten the destruction (look his family history up on Google, you might be surprised at what the media hides – and compare it to what he claims). However, I’m not sure that hastening things would be entirely bad. This country, whites, need the inevitable collapse in order for a reconstitution to begin. Nothing can collapse a system faster than lots of blacks and browns. Nothing can be more fearsome than organized, angry whites. Whites who have been forced to wake up because they have been pushed into a corner. Because that’s what it’s going to take.

From: Doug

To Nostradamus Smith

Your assessment is correct.

I say let the Republicrat/Demicans fall where they may and lets just get it on.

These invaders have it made right now, with the Federal Government looking the other way, however that will inevitably change. There is no doubt in my mind that some type of segmentation and Civil War is on the horizon.