A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill to overhaul immigration laws. Co-Chair for the Real Arizona Coalition, Lisa Urias, James Garcia, owner of Creative Vistas Media, and Executive Director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform and Member of the Real Arizona Coalition Leadership, Todd Landfried, discuss the legislation.
Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill to overhaul immigration laws. The legislation is designed to put an estimated million people on a path to U.S. citizenship and to invest billions of dollars in strengthening border security. It also includes a new farm worker program and Visas for high-tech workers. Joining me tonight to talk about this immigration reform bill are Lisa Urias, co-chair for the real Arizona coalition, James Garcia, a communications and media consultant who has written often on themes of immigration, and Todd Landfried, member of the real Arizona coalition leadership council. He is also the executive director of Arizona employers for immigration reform. thank you all for joining us on Horizonte. The topic could hardly be more timely. A lot of things going on on immigration this week. We have the unveiling of the legislation from the gang of 8 on Tuesday and a bunch of other activities. Before we get into that, though, the real Arizona coalition, just a year ago people thought you were crazy for thinking there could be any kind of civil discussion of immigration. What happened?
Lisa Urias: That's absolutely true. It was two years ago now, two and a half years ago really, that we found ourselves in the middle of a firestorm. We had signed. We had more than 6 million media hits internationally, mostly negative. We lost hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from convention and tourism business and we knew we had to find a way to respond, to reposition this issue. We pulled together a group of now 50 member organizations and hundreds of individuals representing thousands of individuals across the state who have come together and have had numerous discussions over the course of the last few years and in particular over the last six months with the O'Connor house and Justice O'Connor, and found a way to come together on this issue, found a platform, but yes, we didn't feel like we could talk about the issue of citizenship for a long time. We didn't feel we could use the word comprehensive. Over the last six months in particular after the last election here we are with our Arizona Senators leading the way on immigration reform.
Jose Cardenas: Todd, there had to have been moments when you were thinking, what am I doing? There's no realistic hope for this to change. A lot of people attribute the election results to what we're seeing today, certainly that's a part of it, but there does seem to be a mood in Arizona that's much different than a couple of years ago. People are tired of all the fighting and are looking for a positive St. Louis. -- positive solution.
Todd Landfried: I don't think it's so much that we had some - we were concerned that people weren't willing to talk about this. I think our beginning premise was that people wanted to. But they needed a venue. They needed a place where they could have these types of discussions. So the conference as that we did throughout 2011 helped kick start those types of discussions to the point --
Jose Cardenas: A pretty diverse group of people involved in these.
Todd Landfried: absolutely. We had faith leaders, we had business leaders, we had community leaders. We had legislators involved. From all corners of the state.
Jose Cardenas: Many of the spectrums on the political spectrum were represented.
Todd Landfried: And they came willingly. It wasn't that we had to necessarily collar some conservatives and have them come talk about it. There was a thirst I think in Arizona for a sensible, rational, civil discussion of this issue. I think through a lot of people's leadership and a lot of people's help we were able to get those folks together and I think the work that the real Arizona coalition has played over the last year, well over a year now, to develop a reasonable platform for immigration reform is really remarkable. To see hints of that work in the Senate bill, I think is very heart anything, and just shows that if Arizonans sit down and talk about doing the right thing we can and we can see very positive results out of it.
Jose Cardenas: James, speaking of civil discussion, civil discourse has been an important element of the O'Connor house in Arizona and justice O'Connor herself. As I understand it she kicked off one of the week's panel discussions that took place on Tuesday.
James Garcia: Yeah, on some level it's a bit of a coincidence with the passage of the Senate bill this week but we had planned for a while of series of confrontations -- the proposal of the Senate bill this week. We happened to have scheduled several events which started to today about the discussion of citizenship to our economy, without going into detail essentially that panel talked about real, tangible benefits that would come to our economy if we made these people citizens. Beyond that we have, of course --
Jose Cardenas: talk more about that. Who did you have on it and what were the salient points?
James Garcia: We had Joe Garcia from the Morrison institute. They put the report together. They were a partner in this but it was essentially their baby, if you will. I had Alan -- Alex NORASTICS from the Kato institute which is an expert on these things. Mac McGruder is a business person and Maria Castro who works with the Arizona dream act coalition who is bringer the Dreamer perspective to this
Lisa Urias: Bran Resnik is a new citizen.
James Garcia: nine months ago he became a citizen.
Lisa Urias: He was engaged in moderating the panel. It was very good.
Jose Cardenas: You had a pretty good reaction from the audience?
James Garcia: Amazingly, the audience was right there with us. Because I think what Alex was doing, the whole panel was doing is what the real Arizona coalition has been doing, trying to approach the issue from a fact based argument, not from an emotional argument. It's hard to argue with real facts and that's what the panel was talking about. So the audience was right there with us.
Jose Cardenas: some of the other areas are sponsored by the real Arizona coalition.
James Garcia: some are just partnership activities but one is tomorrow evening the area coalition putting on an arts and culture event although there will be a panel discussion talking about leadership and civil discourse and how that's helped bring us to where we are. On Friday KAEt and ASU are hosting a panel led by former Senator Jon Kyl. The panelists will include Daniel Ortega, an attorney, bill Montgomery, and others. The greater Phoenix economic council has an event in Washington talking about Arizona's perspective on immigration and beyond that valley leadership also has a panel that's going to be talking about immigration and civil discourse.
Jose Cardenas: One of of the things everybody is talking about is the proposal from the gang of eight. Your reactions.
Todd Landfried: I think it's a good start. I think it's clear you can see the imprints of the various organizations involved whether they were in the room type discussions or things we hear about in the news, for example, the U.S. chamber of commerce and the labor unions coming up with a plan for the worker Visas and that sort of thing. It's not -- it's really not a bad plan. As I have said in the news there's a lot of stuff for a lot of people to hate. What's important, Jose, is that people look at it from where the agreement is and start there and focus on what are the things that actually help solve the problem? What are the things that -- what are the factors that help secure the border? What are the things that can be done on the labor side that then can contribute to a more secure border. If we get people out of the desert and are coming through ports of entry that should make the border more secure. But there are concerns that Visa quotas announced so far are too low.
Jose Cardenas: Those would be particular concern to the members of your organization, right?
Todd Landfried: Exactly right. A lot of our members are in the construction industry. A lot of them are in agriculture. So the 15,000 construction worker limit is just incredibly too low. The W-Visas that starts at 20,000 goes up to 75,000 after four years and then can cap at 200,000, that's just too low too. I'll use Yuma as an example. They need 30,000 workers to bring in a winter vegetable crop. Do the math. 30,000, a little more than 20. That doesn't even count the limits that are going to be with --
Jose Cardenas: Do you expect changes that will deal with some of those theirs your organization has?
Todd Landfried: Boy, I hope so. I hope so.
Jose Cardenas: Are there anythings in this bill, that being one example, that will doom it an we won't see immigration reform?
Todd Landfried: Well, there's probably several things. I think there are going to be people in the house and I'm sure people in the Senate who don't like the whole citizenship issue at all. I think you're going to hear people trying to drag out the whole amnesty thing but there's really nothing close to amnesty in these bills.
Lisa Urias: we had an opportunity Jose to meet with Senator Schumer and Senator Mccain about this bill and what we all recognize is that not everyone is going to be happy, that compromise is part of this bill. So I think it's really important for all of us to recognize this, that we are not going to make everyone happy, but this is an important bill. It's important legislation for us to get through. We're hopeful that it will get through the Senate and they were very hopeful that it would. Then of course it has to go to the house and they have to have a lot of dialogue and debate there. But if we don't take this opportunity now and we let it slip through our collective fingers, I think that's a real tragedy.
Jose Cardenas: you could live with the bill as it current is?
Lisa Urias: One thing we need to recognize is that legislation can always be changed, so you can pass this bill, you can get this work started. It's a comprehensive bill that addresses a lot of key issues. Then moving forward in a couple of years if we need to address the Visa issue, if we need to up the numbers dorks it then. But we don't have to stop the bill because we don't have every single point right on right now.
James Garcia: I think my sense of it is that we know that we have an 800 something page document -- we haven't seen what the House of Representatives has. We're not sure how much the Obama administration is willing to give and take. Of course there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of immigrants around the country who are activists working on these issues. There are a lot of forces at play.
Jose Cardenas: The administration are reports are it has given its blessing to this.
James Garcia: The administration has. Yes, more or less. Politically they are closely aligned with immigrants rights organizations. That speaks to where the immigrants' rights groups are, generally positive about what's happening now. But I think the momentum is so tremendous on this bill that it would be almost impossible to stop it in its tracks. It can be modified.
Jose Cardenas: some thoughts by the administration were the border requirements would be so stringent it would kill it.
James Garcia: that's a valid concern. The so-called triggers saying the border needs to be this secure within this period of time otherwise people can't move from permanent legal status or temporary status to some sort of more permanent kind of place in terms of a Visa, and the question now on the table is how realistic are those standards? How do we know when the border is really secure? I think, though, there's a lot of wiggle room because we're talking about years out before those measures start to get locked down. It's not as if next week or six months from now somebody has to say, oh, the border is 90% secure. We're talking years out in the process. There's room for modifying down the road. It can be modified.
Lisa Urias: Senator Schumer made it very clear that they would give people that legal status. They would be able to live here, to work here, to travel back home and come back to the United States freely while they were going through this process. So, some of the trigger points would happen. In the meantime folks would be given that legal stat us that they need now.
Todd Landfried: One thing with the border security argument is that it buys into a mean that's been used for years which is that you have to seal the border first before you can address any of the other concerns. That's problematic when you're tieing to set up high barriers. 90% control over the border is a pretty aggressive thing. I haven't had a chance to talk to many people about that who actually have to do that. But from the discussions I have had with them before I think they would say that's going to be very difficult. So why are we waiting to deal with the labor issues? Why are we waiting to deal with any of the other reforms that are necessary to really solve a lot of these immigration problems if we're setting a barrier that's so high that it's -- it could be five years, ten years.
Jose Cardenas: Hasn't some of the criticism that's come from the right been that barrier is too low? That it's too easy to satisfy the standards for securing the borders set forth in the proposed legislation?
James Garcia: There's been some elements of that but probably most on the right are somewhere in the ballpark of spending five or $ billion and setting up these standards. I think again, if you take the realistic view and the long view on this what's probably going to happies that they are going to start to say we're going to spend X billions of dollars and try to achieve this line. In the meantime there's going to be more legal process for people to come into the country. More workers will be able to move back and forth more freely and will negate on some level the need for that level of security. We have 21,000 border patrol agents now. We probably don't need that but we have them because we have a system in which there are millions of people who have no other way but to get back across the border without documentation.
Jose Cardenas: One concern is the status of the dreamers. What do you see to like in this bill?
Lisa Urias: I think it's very close to what the dream act was originally intended to have. So there are a lot of things that the dreamers can participate in right off the bat. Their citizenship will be streamlined. Their opportunity for citizenship will be streamlined. They will have permanent legal residence right away. They will become citizens faster and be able to become fully engaged in the American dream. They have been here since they were little and this is what they need to be doing.
Jose Cardenas: We're going to end our discussion for now. You've vindicated that you're not just crazy people preaching in the desert. We'll see what happens. Probably have you all back to discuss it. Thank you for joining us.
James Garcia: Todd Landfried: Lisa Urias: Thank you.
Lisa Urias:Real Arizona Coalition Co-Chair; James Garcia:Owner of Creative Vistas Media; Todd Landfried:Executive Director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform and Real Arizona Coalition Leadership Member