Several Arizona Democrats are calling on Republicans to denounce controversial comments by a prominent Mesa representative and take steps toward meaningful immigration reform, including tough sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The comments last week by Rep. Russell Pearce advocating a return to a mass-deportation program from the 1950s called “Operation Wetback” have outraged many in the Latino community. But the state Republican Party has been silent on the issue, and a spokesman said the party has decided not to comment on the statements by Pearce, a House leader and one of the GOP’s leading voices on immigration issues.
Gov. Janet Napolitano’s re-election campaign also has joined the fray. In a statement, the campaign calls on Republican gubernatorial nominee Len Munsil to “distance himself” from Pearce.
Munsil spokesman Vernon Parker called the name of the program “offensive” and said in an e-mail that the candidate does not support mass deportations, which he said “would not be practicable.”
A Latino leadership group and several community organizations plan to hold a news conference today calling for Pearce to apologize.
Pearce said Friday that he does not regret his comments, adding, “I’m not rewriting history to make the silly leftists feel good.” He did not return phone calls Monday.
At the Democratic Party’s news conference, Phoenix Reps. Steve Gallardo and David Lujan, Sen. Bill Brotherton and several legislative candidates criticized Republicans for not denouncing Pearce.
“We need to secure the border and go after employers hiring illegally,” Gallardo said. “We need comprehensive reform that is meaningful and successful, not a failed policy from the 1950s.”
Barrett Marson, spokesman for House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said it is not news that Pearce supports deportations. “I don’t know that he made racially offensive comments,” Marson said.