Some in GOP Seek New Immigration Tone

Daniel Gonzalez, Tucson Citizen, September 9, 2012

A growing number of influential Republicans in Arizona are speaking out in favor of an alternative approach to immigration—one that includes a guest-worker program and letting undocumented immigrants gain legal status.

Along with those elements, the approach calls for securing the border and remaining tough on immigration enforcement.

Among the notable Arizona Republicans calling for a shift are Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a supporter of Senate Bill 1070, the immigration-enforcement law, and Mesa businessman Bob Worsley, who defeated former state Senate President Russell Pearce in a Senate race in last month’s Republican primary.

Pearce, the main architect of Senate Bill 1070, was voted out of office in a recall election last year in which he was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a charter-school administrator from Mesa who also is a prominent voice in support of alternative approaches to illegal immigration.

The move to embrace what Republican supporters consider a more practical, market-driven approach contrasts starkly with enforcement-only laws such as SB 1070 that conservative Republicans in Arizona have pushed for years. {snip}

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Conservatives still dominate the GOP-controlled state Legislature, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer continues to be an ardent defender of SB 1070 and a fierce critic of illegal immigration.

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Efforts to recast the GOP’s approach to illegal immigration in Arizona are motivated by many factors, including pressure from business groups and leaders who feel that enforcement-only laws have hurt the state’s reputation and the economy. Also, there is an attempt to win over politically important Latino voters turned off by the Republican Party’s harsh stance on illegal immigration.

At the center of the change is a four-point plan that supporters say starts with securing the border but also includes a guest-worker program to make it easier for foreign workers to enter the country legally to fill labor needs in the U.S.

Another part would revise the nation’s visa system, letting illegal immigrants already here gain lawful status so that they can work legally and pay taxes. The final point calls for using enforcement laws such as SB 1070 to identify and deport criminals rather than breaking up families.

“This is something I believe the Republican Party is ready to talk about in Arizona, and it was not going to happen with Russell Pearce in office,” said Worsley, who received 56 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for Pearce, in last month’s primary race and will face Democrat Greg Gadek in November.

“This is a significant shift away from what looks like a hard-hearted, harsh-enforcement police state versus being sensitive to a multicultural population that we have with some compassion and keeping families together,” Worsley said.

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At public events and forums, Montgomery has been pushing for a broader approach that begins with achieving operational control of the border.

In an interview, Montgomery defined operational control of the border as what has happened in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector. Although the sector once was one of the busiest on the U.S.-Mexican border, apprehensions have plummeted there and illegal immigrants and drug smugglers who do attempt to cross face a high likelihood of being caught, he said.

Once operational control has been achieved, Montgomery said, he would like to see a three-year moratorium on the prosecution of illegal immigrants and businesses that hire illegal workers.

During that time, illegal immigrants could register with the federal government to receive temporary-residency status. Anyone with a felony, or who committed one later, would be quickly deported. But those with clean records could eventually be allowed to apply for legal permanent residency.

Montgomery said no one, however, would be allowed to apply for citizenship unless they first returned to their home country and applied like anyone else.

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The platform adopted by the Republican National Convention last month opposes “any form of amnesty” for illegal immigrants, which indicates the uphill battle Republicans like Montgomery will face in pushing for changes.

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Matthew Benson, the governor’s spokesman, said Brewer believes the border must be secured before there can be any discussion of what to do about illegal immigrants already here.

“Priority Number 1 is you get your border secured, and then you can begin talking about the individuals who are already here, including the childhood arrivals,” Benson said.

Brewer, however, does support a guest-worker program.

She “believes that we need to have some way to bring in a source of labor for the industries that needed it in this country but to do it in a way that is well managed and supervised,” he said.

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