Reaction in Arizona to President Barack Obama’s immigration speech generally split along party lines on Thursday, with Republicans blasting his remarks on the state’s new law and Democrats calling his approach reasonable.
One prominent Arizona legislator, Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, said he was offended by Obama’s speech, in which the president blamed lack of federal action on immigration policy on “political posturing and special interest wrangling.”
Kavanagh said Obama was trying to convince Hispanic voters he’s doing something about immigration when all he’s doing is blaming Republicans for inaction.
And the speech was a disappointment to those who want increased border security and internal enforcement of immigration laws, Kavanagh said.
“This was a political speech that probably annoyed everybody,” said Kavanagh, who was a leading supporter of the Arizona law when state lawmakers considered it during their 2010 session.
Meanwhile, Democratic Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard said the president’s proposals on immigration reform were long overdue and deserved immediate attention from Congress.
“The president is offering a common sense path for illegal immigrants to get right with the law by passing a criminal background check, paying a fine, paying back taxes and learning English,” Goddard said. “These are all steps I have long endorsed.”
Goddard did say the president needed to do more to support efforts to fight cartels and increase border security.
Obama said that laws like Arizona’s and those being proposed in other states “have the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound.”
Supporters of Arizona’s law have repeatedly noted that it specifically prohibits using race as a factor when officers decide whether to question people about their immigration status.
The law generally requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime for legal immigrants to not carry their immigration documents and bans day laborers and people who seek their services from blocking traffic on streets.
The president has ordered the Justice Department to review the law for potential civil rights violations.
Obama also laid out what many consider another major argument for a potential federal lawsuit to block the law.
“As other states and localities go their own ways, we face the prospect that different rules for immigration will apply in different parts of the country,” Obama said. “A patchwork of local immigration rules where we all know one clear national standard is needed.”
The best way to head off state laws on immigration is to approve comprehensive federal legislation, said U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican who said Obama failed to acknowledge that the border isn’t secure.
Some Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation have urged Obama not to pursue a possible lawsuit to block the law from taking effect on July 29, and Rep. Harry Mitchell reiterated that in a House floor speech Thursday. He praised the president’s plan to reform the system but said any suit to block Arizona’s new law would be “the wrong direction to go.”
“I believe the administration’s time and efforts would be much better spent securing the border and helping fix our broken immigration system,” Mitchell said.