Candidates for Congress in District 3 each say the immigration system is broken.

In a raucous debate Tuesday with cheering and jeering from the audience, they argued about their ideas for fixing it.

Democrat Raúl Grijalva, Republican Gabriela Saucedo Mercer and Libertarian Blanca Guerra answered a pair of immigration questions from Arizona Public Media and the League of Women Voters.

"I am completely in favor of legal immigration, as an immigrant myself," Saucedo Mercer said. "We are a sovereign country with laws and regulations and everybody should come to this country the right way - the same way that I came."

She said Grijalva has done nothing to solve the problem.

Grijalva said it's not for lack of trying. He has co-sponsored bills on comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act for the last eight years, he said.

"The greatest security step we can take right now is to know who's here, have a process for earned legalization and in that process unify families," he said.

Guerra also supports a path to legalization, but one that involves illegal immigrants paying fines to the government instead of paying smugglers, she said. She also wants the government to make better use of technology in border security.

While Grijalva said the DREAM Act, allowing those brought here as children to stay if conditions are met, would be a good first step toward immigration reform, Saucedo Mercer said it's "just a political ploy to win votes."

Congress showed "a dereliction of duty when President Obama circumvented Congress and went around us, the people, and declared that he was going to give amnesty," she said.

Saucedo Mercer said the nation can't reform the immigration system without first securing the border. She pointed to the double-layer fence in San Diego as a success story.

"Securing the border is not about keeping the poor illegal alien from coming here looking for a job," she said. "Border security is national security issues, which we are not addressing. We have trans-national criminals coming across the border and nobody's addressing that."

"Mr. Grijalva is always busy declaring wilderness areas that only serve as sanctuaries for the drug cartels and trans-national criminals," she continued.

Grijalva responded that the border problems can't be solved with "platitudes and with rhetoric."

He said a targeted approach to fighting organized crime on the border should accompany reform.

"One of the things we can't do on the border is to create the hysteria that we can't do anything about it unless we build a seven-layer fence," Grijalva said.

Election guide coming Sunday

Early voting begins today and the Star's guide to candidates and propositions is coming Sunday.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.