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Arizona Incumbent Prepares for Election Fight over Immigration

July 10, 2006 at 6:40 PM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Fourth of July congressional break provides members, particularly those with an eye on the fall elections, with a good opportunity to meet with constituents and discuss the issues. And what better place to do it than at a parade?

SEN. JON KYL (R), Arizona: Hi, guys! How are you?

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Senator Jon Kyl worked both sides of the street at the Frontier Days celebration in Prescott during his break.

PARADE ATTENDEE: We’ll mosey on down to the OK Corral.

KWAME HOLMAN: The two-term Republican is counting on his conservative supporters here to send him back to Washington for a third term. But with Congress and President Bush saddled with low approval ratings, Kyl knows Republican voters might need to be motivated to turn out on Election Day, and he believes his positions on immigration will give them a reason to.

SEN. JON KYL: Immigration is the issue in Arizona. More than half of the illegal immigrants coming into the United States pass through Arizona. Some stay. And everyone here is aware of it. It is the big issue.

First of all, make sure that you have in place all of the things you need to secure the border, which will take time, but commit the resources necessary to it. And we haven’t done that yet.

ARIZONA CITIZEN: Does that mean build a wall?

SEN. JON KYL: No, it means build probably 300 or 400 miles of fencing in the urban areas.

Contenders focusing on immigration

Sen. Jon Kyl
(R) Arizona
Putting up more fencing, creating a better situation to control the border, that's what people focus on first.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last spring, the Senate passed an immigration bill that combined tough border security and enforcement provisions with a guest-worker program and path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Kyl objected to that complex approach.

SEN. JON KYL: Putting up more fencing, creating a better situation to control the border, that's what people focus on first. And once people see that we're serious about enforcing the law, then I think they'll be much more open-minded to these other concepts of the temporary worker programs and how to deal with the people who are here illegally.

JIM PEDERSON (D), Arizona Senate Candidate: That's not what I'm hearing. It's not what I'm hearing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Thirty minutes behind Jon Kyl in the Prescott parade and about 15 points behind in the opinion polls was Jim Pederson...

JIM PEDERSON: Everybody's voting in November, right?

KWAME HOLMAN: ... a successful shopping mall developer and a Democrat. He's making his first run for political office, challenging Kyl on immigration.

JIM PEDERSON: You're talking about frustration in this state that's boiling over. We could have a culture war on our hands if something's not done.

So for Senator Kyl to say, "Well, everything's going to be alright, and we really don't need to pass legislation, and let's just let nature take its course," is a position that really defies reality. And Senator Kyl takes a very narrow view of this.

For instance, he says that any undocumented person here must return to their country of origin before they can gain any kind of legal status. So what he expects are undocumented people to voluntarily report to the INS to be deported to their country of origin. Now, how does that make sense?

Population divided over issue

Earl de Berge
Behavior Research Center
We asked people whether they thought it was an immoral act for the government to simply throw people out, regardless of whether it tore families apart and so on, it divides the public right down the center.

KWAME HOLMAN: It's unclear which party holds the political advantage on immigration.

ARIZONA CITIZEN: This is it. It's not much.

JIM PEDERSON: Well, there's Mexico. There's Mexico right there.

ARIZONA CITIZEN: It's not much of a barrier.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Jim Pederson's support for comprehensive reform, border enforcement and a path to citizenship, is more in line with that of the president and of Arizona's other Republican senator, John McCain.

JIM PEDERSON: If we think that we're going to solve this problem just by a single focused effort, in terms of trying to keep people out, you can't do it.

KWAME HOLMAN: And while Republicans hold a slight party registration advantage over Democrats, veteran pollster Earl de Berge says there's been a steady increase in the number of registered independents, now as high as 27 percent.

EARL DE BERGE, Behavior Research Center: But more importantly, independents today are not alienated voters. They are people who are just sick and tired of partisan politics, and they're aggressively determined to participate and to participate without response to partisan calls.

KWAME HOLMAN: What do they say about the 11 to 12 million in the country at-large and the half-million undocumented in Arizona who may wish to stay?

EARL DE BERGE: I don't think they really know what they think about that yet. I would argue that that has not played out clearly enough yet for most people to figure out what it actually means.

We do know -- we asked people whether they thought it was an immoral act for the government to simply throw people out, regardless of whether it tore families apart and so on, it divides the public right down the center. Literally, 44 percent say, "Yes, go ahead and do that"; 44 percent say, "No, that's morally wrong to do."

KWAME HOLMAN: At the Frontier Days rodeo, the world's oldest, we found Arizonans were paying attention to the immigration debate. Tracy Tripp moved to Phoenix from Washington State three years ago.

What needs to happen to the half a million estimated living here in Arizona and who may want to stay?

TRACY TRIPP, Arizona Citizen: A real tough question. There's a quid pro quo here. I think that people who came in irresponsibly and illegally have to step forward and do something responsibly to take on the rights and obligations of citizenship.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gheral Brownlow, working a refreshment stand along the rodeo midway, is a lifelong resident of Prescott.

GHERAL BROWNLOW, Arizona Citizen: Well, of course, one thing that's not being done is a lot of these people is hiring these people and paying them low wages and not certifying if they are citizens.

However, on the flip side, if I want to hire somebody, I call up Social Security and I say, "Hey, this Mr. Gonzalez is -- does he have his card?" They say, "It's none of my business. We're not going to help you." So it's really, really tough to verify if they're illegal immigrants or not.

Undocumented workers have no say

David Jones
Arizona Contractors Association
This void that we've been operating in right now is not fair to us. It's not fair to our country. But at the same point, it's time that the people in Washington take action.

KWAME HOLMAN: At the center of Arizona's immigration debate, but without a say in the political outcome, are those estimated half-million undocumented workers, many of whom have crossed the border with Mexico and made the 200-mile trek to Phoenix or to other communities to look for work. The most obvious sit in small groups in parking lots along busy streets, waiting for job offers.

Rosario Aro (ph) said he's been doing this for 20 years, walking two days through the desert from his home in Mexico, usually in February when it's cooler, and returning home in December.

How much money do you make every week? Cuantos dinero por semana?

IMMIGRANT WORKER: Three hundred, $400 per week goes to Mexico. Maybe another good job, a different job. This week, I got a good job. I'm paid $100 per day.

KWAME HOLMAN: What kind of work?

IMMIGRANT WORKER: I want construction work, houses, everything, put tile, everything general.

KWAME HOLMAN: Doing the time?

IMMIGRANT WORKER: Yes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Five hundred dollars?

IMMIGRANT WORKER: Yes, $500 dollar for five days, yes. It's good.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona's business community is desperate for Washington's politicians to create some sort of temporary legal status for undocumented workers. These business leaders in the city of Tempe all expressed the same frustrations.

PAT THIELEN, Twin Palms Hotel: I don't think any business wants to break the law. I certainly don't want to do that; I'm a law-abiding citizen. But trying to verify this has just turned into a nightmare, and we can't do it.

DAVID JONES, Arizona Contractors Association: We don't mind living up the standards of responsibility. But at the same point, we have to have a system that really work in the form of validation and identification.

And this loophole that we've been -- this void that we've been operating in right now is not fair to us. It's not fair to our country. But at the same point, it's time that the people in Washington take action.

DON CASSANO, Waste Management: They're arguing over it, but they're not sitting down to say, "OK, you've got some good ideas. You have some. Let's get together and see if all of these ideas can come together and we can come up with a plan that's going to work."

Need for comprehensive policy

Neville Cramer
Former Immigration
The politicians are not talking about Social Security number verification. So the real solutions are not being touted by the politicians or, for that matter, understood by the general public.

KWAME HOLMAN: Listening to those concerns was Harry Mitchell, who says he's so convinced of the need for a comprehensive immigration plan he's running for Congress to see that it gets done.

HARRY MITCHELL (D), House Candidate: We've heard lots of promises about Washington, what they're going to do about stopping it, lots of promises, but they've been nothing but broken promises. In fact...

KWAME HOLMAN: Mitchell has run for political office before -- 15 times -- and succeeded all but once. He served the last eight years as a state senator and 16 years before that as Tempe's mayor.

So popular was he they named the new city hall after him and erected a 35-foot-tall statue in his honor. Now, he wants to go to Washington and replace Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

HARRY MITCHELL: These problems can be solved. I don't think he's really there to solve a problem. He's been there 12 years, and I'm saying that, if he's re-elected, nothing's going to change.

I'm doing this because I think I can win, and I think that I have the issues on my side. And if it gets to the knockout punch, as you say, I believe I'm ready to do it, because I think that I have a message to tell, and I'm not going to let it get clouded over by somebody who's doing it in a very bombastic, leghorn, foghorn way. I'll be ready. I'll be ready, put it that way.

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), Arizona: Thanks for coming back to see me.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, J.D. Hayworth hasn't sat idly by on the immigration issue. Last December, he helped pushed through a series of border enforcement measures that called for the deportation of undocumented workers and would make their illegal status a crime.

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Nobody can call me a rubber stamp. I'm a representative of the people. And I have taken this issue literally to the president of the United States, and, in diplomatic but in no uncertain terms, offered my advice, my perspective, and the notion that we need enforcement first.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hayworth was among a determined group of House Republicans who recently convinced their leaders not to negotiate with senators on their bill, instead urging a series of immigration field hearings this summer, such as the one Hayworth attended in San Diego on Wednesday.

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: What the Senate passed and what my opponent backs is a bill that allows and forgives identity theft, Social Security fraud, and says to those who may be here illegally, "Well, over the five years, if you will pay three years of back taxes, we'll just forget about the other two years."

What that will do to wreck the system is something that the people of the Fifth District will stand up and notice. And if my opponent wants to continue down that road, wants to sacrifice Social Security and benefits to illegals, if he wants to run on that as a, quote, "realistic approach," well, he will enjoy collecting his Social Security checks back in Tempe. He will not be serving here in Washington.

KWAME HOLMAN: Residents of Arizona's Fifth Congressional District, 14 percent of whom are Hispanic, are starting to make their political choices based on the immigration debate.

JAQUELINE TORRES, Arizona Citizen: You know, I feel for anybody who's a part of trying to come up with a good solution to this problem, because I feel strongly about that, about having my tax dollars go to provide services for people who are not here legally. So then let's do something about legalizing them.

CURT FRINKLE, Arizona Citizen: I'm a Republican, but I will vote for the person who will -- who's got the right plan. Whether he's Democratic or Republican, I really don't care about that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Scottsdale's Neville Cramer, who retired from the Immigration and Naturalization Service after 26 years, said that candidates themselves need to become better informed about the problem before they get his vote.

NEVILLE CRAMER, Former Immigration Officer: We should be looking at creating a Social Security number verification system that would require all employers to verify the Social Security number of their employees and an employer sanctions program that uses that verification system to find employers who are non-compliant.

But the politicians are not talking about Social Security number verification. So the real solutions are not being touted by the politicians or, for that matter, understood by the general public.

KWAME HOLMAN: Adding to the emphasis on immigration this election year, Arizonans also will vote on a handful of ballot questions, including whether English should become the official state language and if undocumented immigrants should be denied a variety of state services.

Whatever the results, Election Day in Arizona could go a long way toward determining what the national immigration policy might look like for years to come.