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Mayors Call for Quick Passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Phoenix Mayor Gordon Urges Message Taken to White House, Congress

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
June 28, 2010

Conference of Mayors Vice President Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa kicked off a June 12 discussion on immigration reform during the Conference's Oklahoma City annual meeting, saying he would love to be focusing on jobs or infrastructure or public education — serious problems facing cities today — but because of the federal government's inaction, mayors must focus on immigration reform. He commented that a Pew Center study shows that 70 percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform and reminded everyone that again and again the Conference of Mayors has supported it as well.

Villaraigosa praised Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon for the courage he has shown in speaking out against Arizona's immigration law and said that Gordon had inspired him to speak out about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He called on mayors to help bring attention to the issue and the need for action in Washington (DC).

National Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguía told the mayors that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility for immigration reform, leaving states and local governments to try to deal with the attendant problems. She commented that the American public is "hungry for solutions" and is demanding leadership.

"It's time to hold our elected leaders in Washington accountable, " she said, calling for greater leadership from the White House, movement by the Democratic majority in Congress, and less finger pointing by Republicans. "Mayors can play an incredibly important role in getting Congress to act," she concluded.

Trenton's Identification Card

Describing his city's identification cards, Conference Past President Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer said they do not represent "a policy we sought, but something we need to do to settle issues without prejudice." He described them as "an interim practical answer."

The cards were developed in 2009 by a coalition of civic groups and have been endorsed by Trenton and Mercer County officials. They are intended to help illegal immigrants become a part of the community and gain access to services and facilities that require identification. Palmer commented that the cards have been vital to fighting crime and helping immigrants to get health care and other needed services. He mentioned that in 2007 New Haven was the first city to issue identity cards.

Palmer commented that some people demonstrate a bias, defining all immigrants without papers as criminal. "We need to differentiate between those who are dangerous and those who are as diligent as our ancestors were," he commented. "Our history and values as Americans are very much about immigration. We can-t suddenly deny it out of bigotry or bureaucratic inadequacies. We have to address immigration comprehensively and fully," he continued. "Until we do that as a country," he cautioned, "communities are going to take steps like an identification card."

Arizona's Immigration Law

Gordon, Chair of the Conference's Task Force on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, briefed the mayors on the Arizona immigration law, which, he said, is scheduled to take effect July 29, but is being challenged in the courts through at least five different lawsuits. He discussed a number of its provisions, in particular those relating to local police departments and officers, and expressed concern that the law will threaten the ability of the police to work with victims and witnesses who are undocumented.

Gordon explained that the law would prevent police management or governments from adopting any law or procedure, which in any way would limit an officers- discretion to fully enforce immigration laws. He said it would require the police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested before they can be released and to prioritize immigration over all other criminal issues. It would require huge manpower and cash outlays for transporting and incarcerating those who are detained. In addition it would create a private right of action so that any resident can sue departments for $5000/day on any incident, and hold officers individually liable and make them vulnerable to being charged with civil rights violations.

Gordon cautioned the mayors that if they don-t get involved in immigration reform the problems they-re experiencing in Phoenix "will get in your city if they haven-t already." "Phoenix is a transit stop to each one of your cities," he explained.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

"We do need security, and that security requires comprehensive immigration reform," Gordon said, "but all we-re doing as a nation now by passing laws like Arizona's is rewarding those syndicates that are prospering, making more money by smuggling individuals now than they did months ago."

He asked the mayors to put politics and rhetoric aside and to continue to support the Conference's resolutions to obtain comprehensive immigration reform immediately, reminding them of the five principles of the Conference's adopted policy: increased border security and enforcement; the protection of human and civil rights of both citizens and non-citizens; 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; and the elimination of current obstacles to citizenship that have resulted in 10-12 million undocumented residents living in the shadows. Gordon concluded by urging the mayors to stand together in support of comprehensive immigration reform and to take their message to the White House and Congress.