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Businesses bring common sense to immigration debate

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John McComish

Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 4:00 am

The list of corporations and businesses was eye-opening:

U.S. Airways

Banner Health

Cox Communications


The Leona Group

Viad Corporation

Blue Cross Blue Shield of AZ

Sundt Construction

University of Arizona

St. Joseph's Hospital


Wells Fargo Bank

Vanguard Health Systems

In all, 60 chief executives of major Arizona corporations signed a letter to Senate President Russell Pearce, urging him to back off on another round of legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration because it would further hurt Arizona businesses and our struggling economy.

It was unprecedented.

It was risky (given that those businesses could suffer a backlash from Arizona's anti-immigration populous).

And, more than anything, it was effective.

In a rare move, Senate Republicans broke ranks with their embattled leader on Thursday night, rejecting a package of immigration measures that would have challenged birthright citizenship; prohibited illegal immigrants from driving a vehicle in Arizona or attending state universities and community colleges; and required school districts and hospitals to check the legal status of their students or patients.

In effect, state senators said enough is enough with Pearce's dogged attack on illegal immigration; the focus needs to remain on Arizona's economy.

"These immigration bills are a distraction," said Sen. John McComish of Ahwatukee Foothills, one of nine Republicans who broke ranks and sided with minority Democrats in their opposition of the five bills.

"They could be a detriment to the growth of our economy, and they are something people don't want us to be focused on," McComish added. "It's time for us to take a timeout on immigration."

For the record, the nine Republicans who, in our minds, showed a dash of common sense were McComish; Frank Antenori, Tucson; Nancy Barto, Phoenix; Adam Driggs, Phoenix; John Nelson, Litchfield Park; Steve Pierce, Prescott; Michele Reagan, Scottsdale; and two of our East Valley legislators - Rich Crandall, Mesa; and Steve Yarbrough, Chandler.

Opposing Pearce on this issue took guts - from those nine Republicans, from the 60 businessmen who endorsed the letter, and from 21 local chambers of commerce (including Tempe, Chandler, Ahwatukee, Queen Creek and Apache Junction) who also wrote a similar letter to legislators.

Yes, we need to do something about illegal immigration. It has become a drain on Arizona. But these bills were not the answer.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Arizona's employer sanctions law in the next few months, and the constitutionality of SB 1070 will be decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Let's let those court battles play out before Arizona goes even further with immigration legislation that would bring more boycotts to our state.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said studies on the economic effects of SB 1070 have ranged from $15 million to $150 million in losses for Arizona.

No matter how misguided those boycotts may be, they are real. Arizona companies that lose out on contracts to other states suffer and inevitably end up laying off workers and shrinking the taxpayer base in our state.

"If ever there was a good time for a timeout to get some guidance from federal courts, it's now," said Hamer, who has appeared before Senate committees stressing the economic hardships illegal immigration measures can bring. "The content of these proposals... there's a better chance of a blizzard in Mesa in May than the U.S. Supreme Court changing its interpretation of 14th Amendment. It's just not going to happen. ... It's a waste of time and effort."

Pearce won't likely back down - "I stand on the side of citizens, not a bunch of businessmen that write me a letter," he said after Thursday's defeat - so don't be surprised to see the bills resurface.

For now, however, chalk one up for the businesses.

"It was really extraordinary," Hamer said, "to see the entire mainstream business community come out and say ‘We recognize the need to secure the border, we recognize the need for immigration reform at the federal level, but we don't need to continue to go it alone with statewide measures that won't do anything for border security but will weaken our economic security.'"

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