August 9, 2004
FLAGSTAFF - States should have leeway in determining whether to provide benefits to illegal immigrants, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said during a campaign train ride Sunday through Arizona.
That is likely to be a volatile issue in Arizona because of an initiative put on the Nov. 2 ballot by the group Protect Arizona Now, which would prohibit any state or local government from providing public benefits to illegal immigrants unless they are mandated by the federal government.
“It's up to states to decide what the states want to do with respect to their own expenditures for those things not mandated by the federal government,” Kerry told Arizona reporters during a campaign train trip.
“I believe that the immigration issue has gotten worse in people's minds and harder to deal with . . . because we haven't had leadership that's made a conscientious effort to have broad, comprehensive immigration reform. If you have broad immigration reform, and you can reduce the number of illegal immigrants in America . . . these kinds of things begin to melt away.” Kerry is on a two-day swing through Arizona, his fourth visit to the state this year. He started the day meeting with American Indian leaders in Gallup, N.M. and capped it with a rally that drew about 10,000 people in downtown Flagstaff.
Kerry arrived at the Flagstaff event about 10:40 p.m., stopping to give high-fives to people crowded against the barricades.
Kerry mocked campaign slogans by President Bush that America’s economy has “turned the corner.”
“I don't know what corner they are turning,” Kerry said. He rattled off a series of indicators that he says show many Americans are not benefiting from the economic recovery that Bush touts. Jobs created under Bush’s tenure do not pay as well as those that had been lost since he took office, and more Americans are without health care, Kerry said.
“We need to start putting real values back into the decisions of our country,” Kerry said. “We’ve got to get to an America where politicans are not talking about values, but we are choosing them in our budget, in our policies. Values that are spoken but actions not taken are just slogans. And we're sick and tired of slogans. We deserve something better.”
The trip resumes today, with Kerry making a side trip to the Grand Canyon for a photo opportunity and time with his family, who are traveling on the train. He also will have an event this evening in Kingman before boarding a bus for Las Vegas.
Kerry will continue to California and Oregon to complete his coast-to-coast tour, which began in Boston after the Democratic National Convention there last month. Kerry said that if he is elected, he will seek passage of comprehensive immigration reform in his first 100 days in office. In his last trip to Arizona, Kerry unveiled a key component of his immigration proposal.
It would create a guest worker program with a mechanism for those who have lived illegally in the United States, but who have otherwise obeyed the law, to gain legal status and eventual citizenship. Kerry said Sunday his immigration proposal would include tighter border security and tougher enforcement against employers who hire illegal immigrants.
“When I say broad reform, I’m not talking about just trying to please one group or the other,” Kerry said. “I’m talking about comprehensive reform, which means border security. It means application of the law with respect to hiring illegally. It means earned legalization so that we are dealing fairly with people. We need a decent, realistic, fair guest worker program.
“Unless you do all of these comprehensively, the governors and everybody else are just swimming upstream.” Kerry sidestepped the issue of whether he would guarantee the federal government would fully reimburse states for their costs of dealing with illegal immigration, such as prison and hospital care. “We have to look at it on a state-by-state basis, and see if we need assistance,” said Kerry, who did thenews briefing with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano at his side.
"The governor has raised the issue with me. I’m very aware of what the pressures are in your budget here because of it. I think the federal government bears some responsibility, but what kind of formula or how we will work it out remains to be seen," Kerry said. Napolitano said after her brief appearance with Kerry that she understands his answer, given the huge federal deficit.
“When he takes office, he's going to confront the largest deficit in American history, ” she said. “He's going to have to do something on a phased-in basis. I have spoken with him about our needs, but I think we will have a receptive ear in the White House.
Kerry was riding the 16-car train that he boarded in St. Louis. The train includes a car used by former President Harry Truman during his 1948 whistle-stop campaign for the presidency. Kerry was originally supposed to slow down to wave at supporters in Winslow, but with a huge crowd at the train station, he decided to make a brief stop. Kerry said he saw a sign that read, “Give us eight minutes and we'll give you eight years.”
“Just for an insurance policy, I gave them 15 or 20,” he said.