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‘Arizona Accord’ aims to change state’s illegal immigration enforcement image

A major effort is underway to get businesses, faith-based organizations and other groups to rally behind a more humane set of principles to guide how Arizona deals with illegal immigration, the complex and emotionally-draining subject that has consumed much of the state’s energy in the past few years.

Called the “Arizona Accord,” the idea borrows from the Utah Compact, which, in addition to advocating for a more humane approach, puts the onus of resolving the immigration issue on the federal government. The set of principles, which was prominently backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is widely credited to have steered the debate in Utah and helped to soften a SB1070-like measure there.

Now, some in Arizona are hoping to replicate those successes — or to at least change the tone of the discussion here.

Those who are familiar with the Arizona Accord said its text mirrors the Utah Compact, which urges law enforcement to focus on criminal activities and on not civil violations of federal immigration laws, discourages policies that “unnecessarily separate families,” acknowledges immigrants’ economic contributions, and calls for a “humane approach” in dealing with illegal immigration.

“I like what it says. What it says is what we’ve been talking about,” said Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the groups being courted to support the effort. Supporters believe the Arizona Accord will help to mend the state’s supposed anti-immigrant image. And while it is non-binding, they hope it would also lead policymakers to steer clear of confronting the issue through enforcement-only measures.

The idea is to show there’s a more pragmatic and comprehensive alternative to SB1070-type legislation.

Sen. Jerry Lewis, a Mesa Republican who defeated Russell Pearce, the author of SB1070, in a recall election last month, said, “I think what it signals to the rest of the world is that hey, Arizona really is a great place to live. It’s a great place to bring your business. It’s a great place to bring your tourism (and) your conventions.

“We want a solution, but we want that solution to be a solution that will work and that will not have so many unintended consequences involved (so) that it makes the solution itself worse than the problem,” Lewis added.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said by offering an alternative to a strict-enforcement approach, the Utah Compact helped to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of a more comprehensive solution.

“That gave courage to Republican legislators, mostly senators, to say, OK, we’re going to take a hit from the right-wing on this, but we’re going to have the support of law enforcement and religious groups and business leaders, and people (in) polls showing that they supported that,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Shurtleff said the politicians who supported more comprehensive legislation based on principles espoused by the Utah Compact made themselves a target.

“(But) I’ll tell you right now, they’re all going to survive. They’re all going to be re-elected and the message is going to be then, see, you can do what’s right. You can do something on immigration (that is) comprehensive and you’re still going to be re-elected. You don’t have to worry about these loud, shrill voices out there that you think are the majority, but they really aren’t,” he said.

Whether the Arizona Accord gains traction depends on many factors, such as who signs it and the amount of media attention it generates.

For one, its supporters will need to compensate for elements that were crucial to success of the Utah Compact but are missing in Arizona, such as the outsized influence of a single entity. In Utah, it’s the LDS church.

They’ll also have to take into account other differences. The Utah Compact is a response to efforts to pass a SB1070-like measure there while in Arizona, SB1070 is already the law.

Arizona is a border state but Utah is not, which means the financial and social costs of illegal immigration are much more pronounced here. In fact, Arizonans have shown their support for SB1070. (A recent poll showed that immigration, even given today’s sagging economy, continues to be Arizonans’ No. 1 concern.)

But supporters of the Arizona Accord can learn from what worked in the past.

For example, a direct appeal by business leaders in response to specific legislation appears to be more effective in Arizona. The open letter by about 60 CEOs early this year played a key role in stopping five controversial immigration bills, including a proposal that was meant to trigger a lawsuit over the automatic citizenship of children born to illegal immigrants.

Still, such a “compact” is unlikely to change the minds of Pearce’s closest allies in the Legislature and those who prefer a strict-enforcement approach. Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, noted that voters here have approved measures that cracked down on illegal immigration.

“I know what the people of Arizona want. They’ve said it time and again at the ballot box,” he said.

In addition to a statewide effort to get businesses and other groups to sign the Arizona Accord, a parallel track is underway to get local governments to adopt a similar set of principles when dealing with illegal immigration.

A group called the East Valley Patriots, which was formed in response to the SB1070 fight, has been lobbying cities to take a stand by endorsing a municipal level compact.

“We felt that we needed to do something to kind of counter that whole tone of legislation and thinking that is, you know, anti-immigrant,” said Daniel Martinez, a retired college instructor and one of the group’s leaders.

“If we stop spending so much time on immigration, then our Legislature can concentrate on creating jobs, improving education and health care — that sort of thing. That’s really what this state needs, rather than more scare tactics, and fear and anger,” he added.

The group has already persuaded the city of Tolleson to adopt it. The group is working to get cities in the East Valley to do the same.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith told the Arizona Capitol Times if it’s simply a rewrite of the Utah Compact, he’d be reluctant to jump on board for several reasons.

For one, he feels that the discussion needs to happen in the community — not through a political entity like the city council, which would immediately make it a “political question.” Smith also said any “compact” would have to take into account the nuances in Arizona, such as being a border state.

But the mayor said he’s all for changing the tone and substance of the immigration discussion.

“There’s too much hype, there’s too much extreme discussion and there’s too much blatant partnership for a problem that can and should be resolved, but it will take people from both sides sitting down and having a reasonable, rational discussion on real solutions,” he said.

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