In March, 2011, amid a flurry of immigration-related bills being proposed at the Arizona Legislature, 60 high-ranking business leaders from across the state penned an open letter to then state Senate President Russell Pearce calling on the Legislature to cool it with respect to continuing to hammer on the issue. They correctly cited the very negative impact it was having on the state economy.
The result was the number of egregious immigration-related bills quickly dropped off. But SB 1070 remained.
Those who signed the letter were executives from all sectors of the economy. The group was bipartisan, and the result was several Republicans breaking party lines and opposing new bills. They cited boycotts of the state that adversely impacted our already struggling economy and costing us jobs. Convention bookings went down in the state with organizations citing SB 1070 as one of the reasons for their cancellations. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce estimated state tourism suffered in the tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues.
Fast forward to today. The recent coverage of tensions mounting in our community is evidence SB 1070 is still divisive and is still creating a wedge between residents and local law enforcement officials. Arrests, marches, rallies and other forms of civil disobedience have made headlines as “we the people” call on the state to repeal that law.
The issue of immigration reform continues to languish at the federal level, as well. This week, a very diverse, bipartisan group of civic and business leaders, elected officials and concerned members of the general public gathered in strong support of immigration reform nationally. The effort is called Arizona Speaks. We jointly signed a letter to our federal elected officials that read in part:
“Reform makes sense from an economic perspective as research demonstrates. Reform makes sense from a societal perspective, allowing workers to come into the United States legally to fill necessary jobs. This also allows contributing members of our society to come out of the shadows to add their gifts to the life of our communities. Reform is a moral imperative that could end the tragic loss of life in our desert, restore human dignity to thousands of individuals and reconnect families.
“We ask you to act now to bring about immigration policy reform before the end of this year.”
On Nov. 13, we at the mayor and council urged our law enforcement officials to adopt changes in their operating policies, each of which is supported by the training our police go through under the direction of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. When implemented, we’re hopeful they’ll ease some of the tensions that now exist in the community.
And yet, the underlying cause of the discord we’re seeing, the disruption of the cohesion of families, and our continuing inability to capitalize commercially with our trading partners south of the border to the degree that we might is the one-two punch of SB 1070 remaining on the books and the political cowardice that prevents our federal government from adopting comprehensive immigration reform.
Arizona lost the 1990 Super Bowl because we failed to adopt the Martin Luther King holiday. The voters finally achieved that through the ballot box. We’re scheduled to host the 2015 Super Bowl. It’s my hope the persuasive voices of Arizona Speaks will be the catalyst for our state Legislature repealing SB 1070 and our federal officials finally getting about the business of adopting a comprehensive package of immigration reforms.
And it’s my hope that the NFL sees this bipartisan group emerging from Arizona just in time to avoid another confrontation with the league over civil rights issues, and the Super Bowl once again being used as leverage to get our legislators to do the right thing.
When groups as diverse as members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and Dreamers come together in support of legislative action, as they have with Arizona Speaks, it’s clear that partisanship is being trumped by common sense.
As Martin Luther King taught, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”