August 19, 2004
Republican candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat clashed over how to combat illegal immigration Wednesday, with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., defending the guest worker program he sponsored and his opponent branding it "amnesty light."
Flake said that unless immigration laws are reformed to create an orderly way for migrant workers to enter the United States, there is no hope of securing the border short of crackdowns such as the 1997 roundup of illegal immigrants in Chandler.
Challenger Stan Barnes countered that Flake’s approach amounts to rewarding lawbreakers, and that securing the border should be the first step in controlling the flow of immigrants.
The two faced off for the first time in a Mesa debate put on by the Tribune.
"If you say we’ve just got to enforce the law, that means Chandler-style roundups," Flake said, referring to an enforcement action by Chandler police, which drew complaints that people were targeted merely because they were Hispanic.
"That’s what enforcing the law is," Flake said in defending his plan. "I maintain we don’t have a law we can enforce right now. And if you’re not going to do Chandler-style roundups, you are offering some form of amnesty because you are allowing those who work here illegally to stay here in some form."
Flake is seeking his third term in Congress from the district that takes in most of Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and other East Valley areas extending into Pinal County. He has joined with Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jim Kolbe, both Arizona Republicans, to sponsor legislation that would set up a guest worker program for those illegally working in the country. The plan would create a mechanism for illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work visas and eventually gain legal status.
Barnes, a former state legislator, said rewarding those who have broken the law by coming here illegally is the wrong approach. He rejected the notion that the only way to enforce the laws against illegal immigration is through roundups like the one that occurred in Chandler. Barnes cited a different East Valley incident to back his point that tougher enforcement is needed.
In June, Arizona Department of Public Safety officers detained 24 suspected illegal immigrants they picked up in Mesa, but were forced to let them go when officers could not get federal immigration agents to respond.
"With amnesty light, you are not going to solve the problem," Barnes said of Flake’s proposal. "The problem is at the border.
"Enforcing the law does not mean Chandler-style roundups. It means when illegal aliens are pulled over at 3 in the morning on the freeway in Mesa, you don’t escort them off and shoo them into the neighborhoods."
Both Barnes and Flake said they oppose the initiative expected to be on the November ballot that would prohibit state benefits to illegal immigrants unless they are mandated by federal law. Only the federal government can solve the immigration crisis, they said.
The two also argued over Flake’s votes against legislation backed by the president and most Republicans in Congress. Flake argued things like a $79 billion package to finance the war in Iraq last year was too laden with improper "pork" spending, so he voted against it. Barnes said that vote in April 2003, in the midst of major combat operations in Iraq, was a "terrible vote" that amounted to sending troops to war but refusing to fund the effort.
Flake voted in favor of the earlier resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, and a subsequent financing package that he said was not weighed down with wasteful, special-interest spending.
The two are scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. today at Mesa Community College’s Red Mountain campus, 7110 E. McKellips Road.