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Business, religious, law enforcement leaders endorse immigration proposal

In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference on immigration legislation with a members of a bipartisan group of leading senators, including, from left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., in Washington. After months of arduous closed-door negotiations, the “Gang of Eight” senators equally divided between the two parties had no issues left to resolve in person, and no more negotiating sessions were planned. Remaining details were left to aides, who were at work completing drafts of the bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A group of business, religious and law enforcement leaders on April 17 endorsed the broad outlines of a comprehensive and nuanced proposal by eight U.S. senators, including Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake, to fix the nation’s woeful immigration system.

The proposal calls for beefing up the U.S.-Mexico border, providing lawful status to the millions who are in the country illegally with a path to eventual citizenship, and overhauling the country’s visa system.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican, and several other community leaders argeed that the nation is ready for the comprehensive fix, adding they were glad to see that the effort is emanating from Washington, D.C. — and not from states like Arizona.

They said the country’s mood has shifted in favor of a comprehensive immigration solution, including a path to citizenship, partly because of how last year’s elections had pushed the issue to the forefront. They said the current national effort built on previous work that tackled this complex issue.

“In recognizing that this is just the start, it is encouraging that the legislation addresses key points of border security, visa reform, employment verification and interior enforcement, as well as the difficult aspect of addressing the population of those present in the United States without legal authority,” Montgomery said prior to joining a forum in Phoenix about the proposed law.

Echoing Montgomery’s points were Glenn Hamer, president & CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, former Phoenix City police chief Jack Harris and Rev. Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church.

They said what’s especially striking is how much the political winds have shifted on the subject of illegal immigration.

“It’s easy to get up here today. Three or four years ago, it wasn’t quite as easy,” said Hamer, whose organization has favored a comprehensive solution for years and has fought piecemeal attempts at the state level to address immigration.

Stewart, a civil rights leader and a member of the national alliance Bibles, Badges and Business, also reaffirmed a sea change in evangelicals’ attitude toward a comprehensive solution that includes a path to citizenship.

He said the faith community is “virtually united” that a comprehensive immigration proposal is needed to “bring justice, to bring fairness, to bring peace.”

Arizona has played a pivotal role in creating the conditions that ultimately allowed the “Gang of 8” to work on a comprehensive immigration fix.

The state’s sometimes singular focus on this issue and its enforcement-only approach had gripped the nation’s attention for years and helped to push leaders to confront the issue once more.

Perhaps more importantly, Arizona’s incessant actions — particular its laws that prohibit businesses from hiring undocumented immigrants and require the police to inquire about the legal status of persons suspected of being in the country illegally — have helped to define the boundaries of what’s doable locally.

Montgomery noted as much when he said Arizona has taken enforcement as far as any state can go and without a comprehensive fix from the nation’s capital, lawmen like him are stuck on an “enforcement thread mill.”

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