Countermovement to anti-immigration rhetoric focuses on Mesa - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Countermovement to anti-immigration rhetoric focuses on Mesa

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Posted: Saturday, February 26, 2011 3:00 pm

Critics of Arizona's sometimes harsh anti-immigration rhetoric have made Mesa the focus of a countermovement to ease tensions and spark a more moderate form of debate.

The effort is based on a similar movement in Utah that's gained national attention for bringing together business, religious, civic, law enforcement groups and even politicians. Called the Utah Compact, the effort hatched last year as a reaction to Arizona's immigration debate and the law making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be in the state.

Daniel Martinez said Mesa is the target because it's the home of Senate President Russell Pearce, the Republican who has gained national prominence for his anti-immigration stance. Pearce could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Martinez is a spokesman for the East Valley Patriots for American Values, which has asked Mesa to endorse the Utah Compact. The group hopes a Mesa victory would propel a campaign through the East Valley and beyond.

"We're trying to get people from all walks of life to sit down and talk about the immigration dilemma that we have so we can respect each other and move toward a better solution, and we think the Utah Compact is a good framework for that," Martinez said.

The compact's fathers recognized the nation's immigration policies are broken. The five-point document calls on a federal focus to strengthen the border and laws, avoiding the unnecessary breakup of families and respect for immigrants. Also, it calls for police to "focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."

Polls show strong support for last year's SB 1070 and for the politicians who support it.

But if groups around Arizona supported something like the Utah Compact, lawmakers would likely reconsider how they speak about immigration and even which laws they would try to pass, Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said.

"Quite honestly, if local communities step up to the plate and endorse the compact, that's an important statement for policymakers to consider," Kavanaugh said. "I understand that often municipal governments don't find a lot of friends in the Legislature, but when it's your businesses groups, your faith communities, your neighborhood groups, your educational groups - that's an important coalition that's difficult to ignore."

Kavanaugh asked Mesa's Human Relations Advisory Board to consider the issue last week, and the group agreed to begin studying it.

The board doesn't take a position on immigration legislation, but member Rory Gilbert said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has asked its members to foster a civil dialogue in Mesa. Talking about immigration is a logical part of Smith's call, she said.

The board will likely spend months studying it, she said, and does not want to rush a decision.

"What is important is we take our time, that we ask the questions we do need to ask so that when we do make recognition to the City Council, they trust they have been well researched," Gilbert said.

The City Council could then take up the issue. Kavanaugh noted the council passes the overwhelming majority of recommendations that bubble up from advisory boards.

Many cities have spoken out against SB 1070, but not necessarily from the standpoint of immigration policy. Rather, they consider it an unfunded mandate that places a burden on police.

The East Valley Patriots also have spoken to elected officials in Chandler and Tempe, but not with a specific request yet. Martinez said the group has been working slowly, noting it plans a Facebook presence but hasn't created a page yet. He believes the group's work will lead to civil conversations about immigration across Mesa and other cities. The city has been receptive so far, he said.

"We're taking it one step at a time," Martinez said. "We're trying to do it right and we're not raising a shrill voice. We want to be respectful and civil, like we want everybody else to be."

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