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Gordon Leads Mayors on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
February 2, 2009

Under the leadership of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, mayors discussed immigration issues in several sessions during the Conference's 77th Winter Meeting, and the Executive Committee adopted a resolution which specifies policy principles for the mayors' push for enactment of comprehensive immigration reform legislation as quickly as possible.

Gordon Calls for Immigration Reform during Saturday Luncheon

In remarks during the January 17 luncheon, Gordon stressed the urgency of achieving comprehensive immigration reform. He said that our failed immigration policies have a negative effect on both the economy and public safety every day. People who have been paying taxes are being driven underground, away from cities, because of the color of their skin. At the same time many cities are facing higher law enforcement costs as they go after criminals involved in drug trafficking, killings, and smuggling.

He described five guiding principles for the legislation - principles that are based entirely on existing Conference policy:

  • Increased border security and enforcement;

  • The protection of human and civil rights of both citizens and non-citizens being detained;

  • More support for city and state governments which are disproportionately shouldering the costs of the current broken immigration system;

  • The use of new technologies to match up foreign workers with jobs in this country that are going unfilled (guest worker program); and

  • The elimination of current obstacles to citizenship that have resulted in 10-12 million undocumented residents living in the shadows.

Mayors Discuss Impact of Illegal Immigration on Cities

The Conference's Task Force on January 17 Comprehensive Immigration Reform met with the two leaders of the immigration policy team at the Presidential transition and with the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

The mayors briefed Tino Cuéllar and Alex Aleinikoff of the Obama transition on issues relating to immigration in their cities during a "listening" session. Among the issues the mayors highlighted:

  • Gordon discussed how in Phoenix undocumented individuals are discouraged from serving as witnesses in criminal proceedings or reporting crimes in which they are victims because prosecutors do not promise they won't be arrested for immigration offenses. This, in effect, gives immunity to the criminals.

  • Hallandale Beach (FL) Mayor Joy Cooper described some local undocumented residents who have been law-abiding, tax-paying members of the community for many years but live in fear of being arrested.

  • San Rafael (CA) Mayor Albert Boro explained that it his city's policy not to enforce federal immigration laws, but during ICE raids the local police are present in case things get out of hand. He said the raids create mistrust in the city's police department because people "don't know which is which." He talked about the problem of U.S. citizen children "abandoned" by their parents when they are deported, and commented that immigrants are individuals who come to the U.S. and work hard.

  • Green Bay (WI) Mayor Jim Schmitt discussed the need to come up with a way for undocumented residents to earn the opportunity to become legal, but cautioned that this is a difficult issue and expressed concern about the Conference's involvement in it.

  • Mesa (AZ) Mayor Scott Smith described the impact that the "lack of a border" has had on his city and how the current 12-year wait to enter the country legally has led people to pay coyotes to bring them across the border, risking their lives in the process. Organized crime is now present in his city and the police and the emergency medical system are strained. He called for the development of a fair, reasonable system that respects the rights of individuals.

  • Laredo (TX) Mayor Raul Salinas talked about the difficulty that farmers and ranchers in his area are having finding workers and called for the development of a legal and proper program that allows people to work - a guest worker program. He commented further that the U.S. is losing jobs to other countries because it doesn't have a guest worker program.

National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani briefed the mayors on the political climate for passage of comprehensive immigration reform, indicating that he thinks that passage is possible this year. He urged the mayors and other elected and appointed officials of state and local governments to influence their elected representatives in Washington and to join in a national campaign in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Executive Committee Adopts Emergency Resolution

At Gordon's request, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa introduced an emergency resolution in The U.S. Conference of Mayors Executive Committee meeting January 18. The purpose of the resolution was to identify work on comprehensive immigration reform based on five guiding principles as a priority for the Conference in the coming months. The text of the resolution, which was adopted unanimously, appears below.