NALEO Conference

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The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference is the largest gathering of elected and appointed Hispanic officials in the country. At its most recent conference, candidates for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations spoke about their views on issues affecting the Latino community and the country. HORIZONTE talks to Arizona Rep. Steve Gallardo about the conference.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Good evening, I'm Jose Cardenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." Governor Napolitano signs legislation sending a strong message to employers of undocumented workers, but she does have some concerns about the plan. Plus hundreds of Hispanic elected officials meet to talk about key issues affecting Hispanics across the country. Those stories coming up next on "Horizonte."

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>>Jose Cardenas:
Arizona takes a step towards stopping the hiring of undocumented immigrants. The governor this week signed a bill that penalizes employers who knowingly hire illegal greets. Starting January 1, House Bill 2779 requires employers to run all employees through a basic pilot program to determine their legal status. The penalties for employers failing to follow the law are as follows: For the first offense, businesses caught knowingly employing an undocumented worker would lose their license for up to 10 days. For the second offense, they could face permanent revocation of their license. Joining me for discussion on the legislation is Dennis Burke, the governor's chief of staff, Daniel Ortega, attorney and community activist, and Todd Sanders, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte." Todd, let's start with you, because this legislation has gone through various iterations, the chambers and other business entities following it. Give us a little bit of the history and tell us how we got to where we are today.

>> Todd Sanders:
Obviously this has been something that's been cooking for probably the last three or four years. Rep. Russell Pearce has certainly made a lot of effort to get this bill passed. The governor vetoed his bill last year. The bill this year started out as sort of a three-strikes type of measure. It included an affidavit that all employers would have to sign in order to operate in the state, and then it included financial penalties, criminal penalties and the possible loss of licensure. As this bill went over to the Senate, it sort of migrated and it almost right now mirrors what's in the proposed initiative that's on the streets.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Is that better or worse from the perspective of the chambers?

>>Todd Sanders:
Well, I don't know if it's better or worse. From the perspective of a lot of people at the legislature, what was in the first iteration caused them some concerns with regard to federal pre-emption. I think some of the powers that be in D.C. that have sort of advised some of the members on this issue have said the first iteration with the financial penalties, for instance, could have been subject to pre-emption, and I think that's why they went the other way.

>> Jose Cardenas:
We covered some of the important provisions of the statute when we did the introduction. Any other key aspects that you think are worth noting right now?

>>Todd Sanders:
Well, I think it's important to talk about a few things and to note that, from where we started to where we ended, I think there was a lot of good work done by the members of the legislature to address a lot of the concerns the business community had. I think, in terms of what concerns we have, and I'm sure Dennis will talk to you about the governor's concerns, but the basic pilot program, for instance, all businesses will have to use the basic pilot program at the beginning of the year in 2008. And one of the big concerns we have was the federal government hasn't funded that properly, and there are some holes with that. If you're subject to identity theft, someone steals an identity and comes to an employer and tries to get a job, runs into the basic pilot, that person is going to be deemed work authorized because they stole the identity of someone who is here legally. That's one reason we advocated for a federal solution.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Dennis, the governor had some concerns but signed the legislation anyway. Why was that?

>>Dennis Burke:
Jose, in the signing letter, she laid out her concerns with the bill. She asked for and will seek from the legislature in special session addressing discrimination concerns she might have emanating from the bill. She would like to see some coverage of critical infrastructure, hospitals, power plants, utilities, whether those would necessarily be shut down or licenses be impacted by this. She had concern with the funding levels for enforcement of it, and she also had raised concerns about remote licensing. If you have numerous facilities and you have a license for all those facilities, will you be impacted by the bill or not? But she was comfortable with it. Her position has been that, since 1986, it has been federally an offense to hire an undocumented person here, and this bill is a reflection of a state penalty for an offence that's been on the books for businesses for 21 years.

>> Jose Cardenas:
But she vetoed similar legislation last year.



>>Dennis Burke:
She did, and it was a much different bill. It had an indemnity provision, so that any business that had any litigation involved because of the bill would be reimbursed by the state, and she thought she could not support that. Basically, last year's bill, if a company came forward and was given a cease and desist letter by the attorney general's office, they could literally be let off without any kind of penalty at all. For those provisions, she vetoed the bill and made it abundantly clear to the proponents of the bill that she had those problems, and they still sent it to her. It was an election year, and I think there was a lot going on, more than just the good merits of the bill.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Danny, since the bill was enacted or signed by the governor, you've been on T.V., radio, talking about flaws in the bill. In addition to what's already been discussed, what do you think are the problems with it?

>>Daniel Ortega:
I think the number one problem is that it's a piecemeal approach to dealing with undocumented immigration. It's always been our position, those of us who work with the immigrant community, that what we need is a comprehensive approach. What we need is something that deals both with the people that are here and have been here for many years, who are parents of U.S. citizens, who have equities to deal with them, as well as enforcement, including employer sanctions. When you just take the employer sanctions part and don't take into account the equities, the humans, the lives of people who have been here for a long time, then you're forgetting a big part of the equation. So it's always been our position that we oppose employer sanctions by themselves. Like I was telling you earlier, Jose, the bottom line is this - you didn't hear very much about opposing employer sanctions at the federal level from the Latino community, and that is because we finally came to grips with the fact that employer sanctions had to be a part of the package, but not by itself and not on the state level. We wanted it to happen through Congress, the U.S. Senate, and ultimately a bill signed by the President, but the Senate and Congress showed they were incapable of passing proper comprehensive immigration reform, and as a result, we have a piecemeal approach that I don't believe is going to work. People are going to continue to need jobs, and employers are going to continue to need people to do the jobs. Since we don't have a temporary worker program, since we don't have an avenue for people to come into this country legally to do those jobs, this will fail.

>>Jose Cardenas:
The governor said that because of the failure of Congress to act, she had no choice. Do you agree with that?

>>Daniel Ortega:
I agree with that. I agree with that particular part of it, that because Congress didn't act, that she had to do something, particularly in light of the fact that the legislature has been sending this up to her. She had previously said she wanted something that was tougher. And she was also looking down the road with regard to what could be on the ballot as an initiative, which could have been worse. So I think she was caught in this political kind of bind. Not that I agree with her necessarily, but that she was in a political situation where she had to do it.

>>Jose Cardenas:
What's your sense of the rest of the Hispanic community? Some groups are expressing great disappointment.

>>Daniel Ortega:
Well, great disappointment for the same reasons that I talked about previously. This will cause tremendous human suffering. It will be a tragedy. When you have people who have been in this country for 15 to 20 years who have children, who have gone to school, I mean, many graduated from universities, or are U.S. citizens or people who have been here for 10 years, five years and who have contributed to the economy of this country, complied with the laws but for their legal status, will now be faced with having to move to another state or, worse, to have to go back to the conditions they lived in previously with children who are U.S. citizens. The bottom line is it's going to cause a lot of human suffering, and that's why we disagree with it.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Todd, this governor has promoted herself and many think justifiably so, as very much a pro-business governor, and yet the business community was pretty much united in opposition to this. What's going to be the political fallout for this governor?

>>Todd Sanders:
Well, I don't know. I've got to tell you one thing, we definitely give the governor a lot of credit for going to D.C. and trying to move the issue forward in Washington. Because I think she said all along this is a federal issue, and I think that there's no question what Danny said is correct. This is a piecemeal approach. I think in terms of what the governor did, I think the business community understands and really does appreciate the fact that she went to D.C., put it on the line and tried to move something on the federal level. I think that, from here on, the business community really has to focus on making sure that our members understand exactly what's in this measure. There are a lot of unknowns. For instance, the provision in the bill that allows for or that calls for reporting to the attorney general. There's really not a lot of specificity there, and we'll have to see how that works and make sure our members understand how to deal with this, to make sure they follow the law. They've followed the law for the past umpteen years and in terms of this new statute, they want to make sure that they are doing what they're supposed to be doing.

>>Jose Cardenas:
One of the things that the governor's concerned about is getting more money for the attorney general to do what?

>>Dennis Burke:
They're required to keep a database and track this, and part of what the governor's concern is to ensure that the attorney general's office is able to monitor this and follow any potential discrimination claims with this. The amount of money put in there is too minimal to be able to do anything. The bill has a bifurcated structure too. It allows complaints to be filed with the attorney general or a county attorney, and the attorney general can then investigate it but then the attorney general has to turn the case over to one of the 15 county attorneys. So there is a role for the county attorney in the early stages of any kind of complaint filed here, and the governor thinks, if you're going to be looking into this and the attorney general's going to have a role in this, you've got to provide adequate funding. And you have got to provide adequate funding for the county attorneys.

>>Jose Cardenas:
What does that mean? Right now the bulk of the money goes to the county attorneys.

>>Dennis Burke:
It's making an assessment to our budget office of additional funding, how many cases could develop and so forth, it's too early to tell. Anyone who looked at the bill realized it's not going to be enough.

>> Jose Cardenas:
How much money was it?

>>Daniel Ortega:
One hundred thousand dollars for the attorney general. $500,000 for the county attorney of Pima. And then the rest goes to the other counties.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Thirteen other counties.

>>Daniel Ortega:
Jose, the bottom line is that this is a cruel political joke from a funding level standpoint. There is no way that they're going to be able to enforce this law with the kind of money that's there.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Why would somebody like Russell Pearce support it so avidly and then not fund it?

>>Daniel Ortega:
My theory is that there's still concern about the impact on the business community. Clearly this will have an economic impact on the state of Arizona. And I think, for the most part, and I don't know about Russell Pearce, because he's got a whole bunch of other people that he has to convince down there about passing this legislation. But the bottom line is that people are still concerned about the impact that this will have on business, and I think funding at this level shows me that business had an impact at watering this thing down.

>>Jose Cardenas:
And is that your sense as well, Todd?

>>Todd Sanders:
I wouldn't say watering down. I think that this is definitely going to have an impact on business. In terms of the funding levels, certainly those were not any of the discussions that we had with Rep. Pearce. There were some important amendments that were added into the bill at the last minute that really actually took care of a lot of the concerns we had. Do we want it to be vetoed? Do we think that this should be a federal issue? Yes. But I think some of the changes that were made are important. And I think they will make the bill a little more workable.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Dennis, did you want to say something?

>>Dennis Burke:
No.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Todd, take a minute and explain the basic pilot program. I think people hear the words but don't know what that is.

>>Todd Sanders:
It's a program that was established by the federal government, and essentially it verifies whether or not someone is here working and if they're authorized to work in the United States. What an employer does is sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the federal government. Once that memorandum is established, an employer has, for instance, a new employee come in to work for them, they take their name and social security number and then run it through, via the Internet through their database, and it comes back and will tell, yes, they're work authorized or not.

>> Jose Cardenas:
If it says they're work authorized, what's the significance of that?

>>Todd Sanders:
The legislation does provide a rebuttable presumption. If you are using the basic pilot program and that's not mandatory until the beginning of the year. But if you are using that pilot program, it does provide some protection. At least you're going through and doing what you should be doing on the federal level. But certainly there are those who have concerns with this program. One of the things we tried to find out from Homeland Security is what happens if 120,000 Arizona businesses suddenly sign up for this program? We don't know. We don't know whether or not that system can handle it. There's a lot of mixed information on this, and I think that's something we'll have to watch.

>>Jose Cardenas:
I understand there's also some concern that it works better for people who are citizens than it does for people who are lawfully present, which are the words used in the statute, but are citizens of another country.

>>Todd Sanders:
That's absolutely true. Based on the research we've done, for citizens, it's about 99 percent accurate. But in terms of folks that are here, working legally from out of the country, that error rate goes up to about 20 percent error rate. So that's a big deal. The other thing that employers have to understand is that federal law prohibits you from back checking. For instance, anybody who's coming in to your door to work, when this goes into effect, within those first three or four days that they're coming to work for you, you can check them. Anybody that works for you prior to this you can't back check. That's a big concern for the business community.

>> Jose Cardenas:
Dennis, what is the likelihood that there will be a special session?

>>Dennis Burke:
Well, part of the reason why the governor framed it in that way, which was to sign the bill, raise some concerns with it, and put the pressure back on the Legislature to come back in special session, was that, and Todd's raised it, that there are a lot of changes made to this bill in the last couple weeks. Not a lot of that was necessarily a rut of public exposure to it. We had a lot of businesses come forward. There were a lot of businesses that came forward to us at the end and said, look, if we had more of a role in this, we would have weighed in. We would like to talk to the legislature. There are provisions we want fixed. The governor will call for it and push for it. She's already talked to Sen. Bee about it, the president of the Senate, she's talked to Speaker Weiers, and she talked to minority leaders. All four were positive to what she was saying. She was laying out a strategy to say, look, I signed the bill today. It doesn't go into effect until January. We have an opportunity to come back and address some of these issues. This came at the end of your session. You spent a lot of time in closed doors banging out the last provisions in this bill. Here's an opportunity. Let's take this opportunity now and fix what we can with the bill before January.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Danny, last word. Where do we go from here? What do you foresee happening?

>>Daniel Ortega:
Well, I think things are going to remain pretty much the same other than a few county attorneys who are going to use this for political purposes. Because until we have comprehensive immigration reform, it's going to be very, very tough to regulate immigration. And we're for regulating immigration. There is no question about that. But we have to do it in a manner that takes all components of the issue under one package, not this piecemeal approach being used by the State of Arizona.

>>Jose Cardenas:
We'll end it at that. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to discuss this. Last week, the association of Latino elected and appointed officials organization, known as NALEO, met at their annual conference in Orlando, Florida. Members met to discuss several topics. "Horizonte" was at the event. Mike Sauceda reports on what NALEO is all about.

>>Mike Sauceda:
The national association of Latino-elected and appointed officials was founded in 1976 by the late California Congressman Edward Roy Ball. At first it was a very small organization. Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was one of the original members.

>>Mary Rose Wilcox:
Congressman Roy Ball, who was the founder of NALEO, came to Arizona. I was working for Sen. Dennis DeConcini at that time in the ‘70s. He came in with an idea to get everybody together. Hispanic-elected officials were growing in numbers, we have to grow in strength and we can be strong together. I immediately signed up, and I never regretted it.

>>Mike Sauceda:
Right now NALEO has just over 5,000 members, that's up from 3,700 in 1996, including U.S. senators, more than two dozen members of Congress, statewide officials, state legislators, mayors and city council members, and school board officials, representing almost every state in the union.

>>Marcelo Gaete:
Latino-elected officials are no longer concentrated just in the southwest states. We have Latino-elected officials from Alaska to Hawaii, New Hampshire. You can imagine, only eight states in the country do not have the privilege of being represented by Hispanic elected officials.

>>Mike Sauceda:
NALEO is a nonprofit organization. It is nonpartisan. Of the more than 5,000 Hispanic elected officials in the country, 73 percent or 3,700, have no political affiliation or serve in offices elected on a non-partisan basis. Twelve hundred of the elected officials are Democrats and 124 are Republicans. A growing number of Hispanic leaders gives Latinos more clout as evidenced by the gathering of some 1,000 Latino officials at the 24th annual NALEO convention in Orlando, Florida last week.

>>Marcelo Gaete:
We have the largest gathering of Hispanic leadership in the country, from U.S. senators to mayors to members of Congress, county officials, school board members, state legislators. We have two of the three Speakers of the House at this gathering. The Speaker of the House from Mexico, the Speaker of the House from Florida. You name it. These are folks that are leading their states, their communities, and making incredible decisions. These folks are an integral part of the fabric and texture of America.

>>Mike Sauceda:
Besides NALEO, there is also the NALEO Educational Fund, a separate organization. It provides many services such as naturalization assistance, civic participation, and voter engagement, besides also providing training and research for elected officials.

>>Jose Cardenas:
With me to talk about the NALEO conference is Rep. Steve Gallardo. Steve, you've been on this show many times. Before we get to NALEO, let me get your reaction to the Governor signing the Employer Sanctions bill.

>>Steve Gallardo:
Very disappointed. This will do nothing in terms of solving our immigration problems here in the state. It does nothing in terms of securing the border, it does nothing in terms of solving the issue of legal path to citizenship. We're dealing with the folks here in our state and throughout our country undocumented. This is a piecemeal approach that does nothing in terms of truly going after the realistic issues in terms of illegal immigration.

>>Jose Cardenas:
This particular piece of legislation wouldn't have been discussed, I assume, at NALEO, but the subject of employer sanctions specifically and immigration generally are somewhat?

>>Steve Gallardo:
On the opening day of NALEO is when the Senate failed to pass the immigration reform on a federal level. So that was a big topic at the conference. This issue continues to dominate our legislative sessions. This continues to dominate not only Arizona but throughout our country. We need to have the federal government step up to the plate, solve this from a comprehensive standpoint, dealing with all aspects of it, and leave the legislature to deal with the state and local issues. Instead we're trying to fix a federal issue on a local or state level without the resources or personnel to be able to properly deal with the issue.

>>Jose Cardenas:
But no one expects now that the federal government is going to do anything until 2009. Do you have any different view?

>>Steve Gallardo:
I am still hopeful that Congress will be able to step up to the plate and do something. I would hope Speaker Pelosi will step up to the plate and deal with this issue. She's been real solid in her six months thus far as Speaker. I believe she needs to step up to the plate and take a leadership role and push out an immigration bill. The Senate did not have the will to do it. I think we need to turn to the House to move forward with an immigration bill that is comprehensive that takes care of some of the issues.

>>Jose Cardenas:
Speaking of the upcoming Presidential elections, I assume there was discussion at NALEO about the impact of the immigration issue on get out the vote efforts and just what the results will be within the Hispanic community.

>>Steve Gallardo:
You know, there was a main issue in terms of our presidential candidates that came to the conference. All of them talked about comprehensive immigration reform dealing with all aspects of illegal immigration. This is a huge blow in terms of Hispanics wanting comprehensive immigration reform and the Senate failing the process or being able to pass legislation. I think the Hispanic community wants some type of immigration reform package. We want something that deals with border security and dealing with the 12 million undocumented that are in this country. I think it's going to galvanize the Hispanic community in 2008. We are registering folks like you wouldn't believe, over 200,000 folks that are able to become citizens and become registered voters now, going through that process in the state of Arizona alone. So I think you're going to see a big turnout come 2008. We want some type of reform in terms of immigration on the federal level, and some of the anti-immigrant type legislation we're seeing on the local level has to stop, and I think that's where you see the momentum switch from many of the Latinos who have been over the last couple years supporting Republican candidates, moving back to the Democratic side.

>>Jose Cardenas:
You made reference to all the presidential candidates but, with one exception, it was only the Democratic candidates who showed up.

>>Steve Gallardo:
And that's the unfortunate part. We had extended the invitation to all. Every one of the Democratic candidates accepted the invitation. Only one Republican accepted, Congressman Duncan Hunter, who accepted the actual invitation. I am very upset that the Republican candidates did not accept the invitation, take the time out to come to listen to the largest minority group in our country and be able to hear our concerns on political issues. I believe it's a missed opportunity from Republican candidates, but it also sends me a loud message, a loud message to Latinos in this country that we are not valued in terms of our voice. They had an opportunity to come and address the largest Latino elected organization in our country. For them to turn us down and say, no, I have other better things to do, I think sends a loud message to Latinos.

>>Jose Cardenas:
You do have one Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, who some observers think has suffered because he did support immigration reform.

>>Steve Gallardo:
It isn't just immigration Latinos are interested about. There's a lot of issues that we deal with at NALEO, like education issues, healthcare, environmental issues. Immigration is just one of those things. I think he had a perfect opportunity to come down, and I think he would have, for the most part, received a very warm welcome from the Latino community. I think all of them would have, if they would have attended. But it's unfortunate that they had a missed opportunity. They had an opportunity to be able to address us. It was a missed opportunity on their part, and also somewhat insulting.




>>Jose Cardenas:
We've only got about 30 seconds left. You spoke, as I understand it, and talked about this being a wedge issue. What did you mean by that?

>>Steve Gallardo:
Over the last five years, we have seen a lot of national groups and other elected officials use this for the most part to divide not only the State of Arizona, but this entire country over a very controversial and emotional issue. They've been very successful in using this for their own political vein instead of truly solving the issue.

>>Jose Cardenas:
That's all we have time for. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte." And thank you for joining us on this Thursday evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. For all of us at "Horizonte," have a good night.

>>Announcer:
Funding for "Horizonte" is provided by S.R.P.
S.R.P.'s business is water and power, but our dedication to the community doesn't stop there. S.R.P., delivering more than power.

Daniel Ortega: Attorney and community activist;

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