An effort in Mesa to spark a more civil debate on illegal immigration is in danger of fizzling.
The reason, ironically, is fear that the immigration debate is so contentious that even addressing the tone of it would continue to stir the pot.
The civility movement had surprised some with its initial success after Mesa’s Human Relations Advisory Board held public hearings for months to consider that city’s own version of an immigration approach called the Utah Compact. Leaders in that state formed the compact to address the harsh rhetoric, and Mesa’s advisory board agreed unanimously to have their city adopt the concepts.
But support is lacking with the City Council.
Mayor Scott Smith said only one member wants to discuss the Mesa Compact. Arizona’s immigration experiences are different than Utah’s and a discussion now would just repeat the heated exchanges, he said.
“This debate and discussion is so toxic that it’s hard to say whether anyone has moved or whether it’s even possible at this time to take this discussion where it really needs to go, which is to find some solutions,” Smith said. “People are so polarized that it’s hard to have a rational discussion about finding what I call realistic solutions.”
The compact has no legal powers. The five-point document states immigration is a federal, not local, issue, while calling on state officials to push for stronger federal laws and border security. It says law enforcement should focus on criminal activity and not civil violations of federal code. The compact also calls for a free-market approach and humane treatment of immigrants.
The Utah Compact garnered national attention as well as calls for a nationwide version of it, while critics see it as cover for amnesty and more illegal immigration.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh called for the advisory board to research the compact because he sees it as a good framework for making policies. But the full Council likely won’t take up the issue because the body only considers items at the request of the mayor or with the support of three Council members. Kavanaugh is the only backer in a conservative city that is home of state Senate President Russell Pearce, a national figure in the anti-illegal immigration movement.
Kavanaugh noted the City Council hasn’t received the advisory board’s research and extensive public feedback that led to the board endorsing the compact. That will likely happen in late summer and could change some minds, he said.
The Council has voted against what advisory boards have recommended before but Kavanaugh said he can’t recall the body ever refusing to take up an issue from one of its own boards.
“I don’t think our Council has ever been afraid of discussing an idea but if they felt the item was not appropriate to discuss, I would respect that obviously,” Kavanaugh said.
Board Chairman James May said he couldn’t anticipate early on that the compact would be supported by the 11-member board because its members have diverse viewpoints. What appealed to him was that the compact’s approach could apply to any hot-button issue, May said.
“I think the overall message was that we have to be able to have some civil, compassionate discussions on resolving some of the issues that face us, not only in Mesa but in the Valley, the state and the nation,” May said. “It’s really disheartening to think maybe we couldn’t have some of those discussions.”
The board’s public hearings were largely respectful even as supporters and opponents testified for hours, he said. Speakers came from other Valley communities, and several East Valley tea party members spoke against the concept.
Smith notes the Utah Compact was formed by religious, business and community leaders while Mesa’s version was crafted by a city panel. The issue might stand a better chance with a wider base of support here, he said.
Smith said he appreciates the advisory board’s work even if he’s not ready to act now. He said he would rather focus on other issues because he doesn’t think a City Council endorsement or debate would change anything.
“It’s just at the point and time that the shouting and the screaming will tone down and we’ll have an adult conversation instead of just calling names,” Smith said. “If we can help nudge that along, I’d like to do that.”
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THE MESA COMPACT
The Mesa Compact, as drafted by the city’s Human Relations Advisory Board.
A declaration of five principles to guide Mesa’s immigration discussion
Federal solutions: Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries — not Mesa and other countries. We urge Mesa’s congressional delegation, and others, to lead efforts to strengthen federal laws and protect our national borders. We urge state leaders to adopt reasonable and human policies addressing all immigrants in Arizona.
Law enforcement: We respect the rule of law and support law enforcement’s professional judgment and discretion. Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.
Families: Strong families are the foundation of successful communities. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families. We champion policies that support families and improve the health, education and well-being of all Mesa children and families.
Economy: Mesa is best served by a free-market philosophy that maximizes individual rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. We acknowledge the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. Mesa’s immigration climate must affirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly community.
A free society: Immigrants are integrated into communities across Mesa neighborhoods. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat each other defines us. Mesa should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.