A new advocacy group tried to set a peaceful tone Tuesday to the state and county’s most vitriolic political debate — immigration.
Leaders of an organization called Voices for Civil Dialogue said that they have been meeting quietly with opinion leaders on all sides of the issue in the hope of finding enough common ground to get the sides talking. Coalition co-founder and chairwoman Annie Loyd said she hopes the effort will lead to new federal legislation.
“The time for drawing lines in the sand, inciting hatred, fanning the fire of fear and making personal attacks must come to an end,” she said at a press conference at the Arizona Ecumenical Council Conference Center in Phoenix.
“We know we can and must do better, because the safety and prosperity of our community, state and nation are at stake,” Loyd said.
The group stopped well short of supporting any particular policy.
Voices for Civil Dialogue is comprised of advocacy groups for children, peace and cultural arts, plus the state chapters of the Ecumenical Council and the American Muslim Society and other groups, according to organizers.
Voices for Civil Dialogue initiated its effort at a time when discussion at the federal level concerning the intertwined issues of border security and immigration reform is quiet.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike generally have talked around the issues since the summer of 2006 when legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain, Jon Kyl, both R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., fell apart under pressure from both parties.
There’s no expectation that Congress will address border security and immigration reform again before the next president takes office in January.
Abby Winter, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., who was reached in Washington, said one of Shadegg’s aides met with Voices for Civil Dialogue members some time ago .
The aide explained that Shadegg prefers a balanced approach to immigration reform, Winter said.
“He believes that the extremes on either side of the issue are harming the debate and hindering steps toward legislation,” she said.
Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten , a member of the new organization, said the tone of public discussion in Arizona creates resentment and interferes with meaningful policy development.
“We ask that people on all sides of this issue, and at all level of government, all of our public and religious leaders, find a more constructive way to express feelings, to talk about our personal experiences, to understand the whole issue,” Flaaten said.
Voices for Civil Dialogue organizers rolled out tentative plans for public symposiums on immigration starting on Oct. 13 at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus.
Loyd said the October forum will feature a panel discussion about the steps needed to encourage and involve members of the public to become involved in immigration policy. The panelists have yet to be announced.
Voices for Civil Dialogue leaders hope to follow the event with regional and national conferences, in addition to smaller forums in nearly 200 cities nationwide.
The group has established a Web site at www.voicesforcivildialogue.com.