Phoenix and LA Mayors on Arizona's Immigration Law

Phoenix and LA Mayors on Arizona's Immigration Law

By John King, USA - May 13, 2010

JOHN KING: Arizona is just one of 50 states but it is driving a good deal of our national political debate and stirring passions. First, it was the new state immigration law, which allows police if they believe they have reasonable cause to ask someone to prove they are in the United States legally. Now, a ban on teaching ethnic studies is making waves. Those who back the ban suggest these classes promote a radical agenda and cast the United States as oppressive.

Supporters call that nonsense and say these classes give Latinos and others a place to learn more about their heritage -- period. Culture wars make for dicey politics and Arizona's actions are being debated coast to coast. The fight over ethnic studies in a moment, but first two mayors on the frontlines of the immigration debate and calls by opponents of the new law to punish Arizona with a tough economic boycott.

Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix opposed his state's law but says his city will bear the brunt of the boycott. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls the Arizona law unpatriotic and his city is now cutting off most travel to Arizona and city contracts with businesses there -- gentlemen, thanks for joining us. Mayor Gordon, to you first -- Los Angeles is now joining Boston, New York City, Oakland, St. Paul, San Diego, San Francisco, a number of labor unions, civil rights organizations, saying they don't like that law, they will boycott your state and your city. How much is this going to cost you?

MAYOR PHIL GORDON (D), PHOENIX: Well, right now, we estimate it has already cost us almost $150 million, at a time when we are just starting to recover on the economic front. And this is about all businesses, not only immigrant businesses but, you know, major corporations. We hire people from all states. We sell goods all over.

This couldn't come at a worse time. In fact it shouldn't come at all. This law is wrong. It doesn't do anything for security. It doesn't do anything but really lead the racial profiling. And it should be overturn and the government should do its job. But I plead everybody not to boycott and paint us all in the same picture.

KING: Well one of the people you are pleading with is sitting right next to you. You believe this is important? You believe it is a matter of principle? And yet your friend here opposes this law, his city will be punished and the people in his city, Mayor, 42 percent of them, are Hispanic in the city of Phoenix. So do you worry that in making this point of principle that you feel is important, the people you will be hurting are the wrong people?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: Well first of all, let me just say that I have the utmost respect for Mayor Gordon. He has been absolutely courageous in his opposition to this law, in his support for comprehensive, fair immigration reform. We both agree that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility here that we encourage folks to do what's being done in Arizona when we don't address the problem of a broken immigration system.

Boycotts have been used in the past. They were used, frankly, against Arizona when the state refused to support the Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday. This isn't the first time that cities or states or civil rights groups have engaged in this effort. Yes, there will be consequences for a law that, on its face, is unconstitutional. On its face, divides not just Arizonans but all Americans.


KING: Let me jump in (INAUDIBLE). You say divides Arizonans and all Americans, and yet, and yet, if you look at the "Rocky Mountain" poll, inside the state of Arizona, 53 percent support this law, in Arizona. If you look at national polls it is around 58 percent. One more number for you from a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll -- does immigration help or hurt the United States? Thirty-seven percent say helps; 53 percent hurts. Something has changed in public opinion in recent years and a majority in your state, Mr. Mayor say they support this law.

GORDON: Let me, first of all, not understate anything that the mayor has said. This law is wrong. We agree on that. We are going to fight it together and having the mayor of Los Angeles partner with me is unbelievably --


GORDON: We are going to have this I think it is important to note the law doesn't go into effect for 80 days, so I'm asking people to wait, allow the Justice Department to intercede. But let me tell you something, first of all this country was founded on protecting everyone's rights, not just the majority but the minority. That is how come people from England came here and other countries first. So nobody took a poll.

Number two, just in the last 30 days, since this law has been signed by the governor, those numbers have dropped dramatically as people are learning what this law is about. What it's supposed to do secure the border, protect us, reform immigration, when it doesn't do any of that. In fact, it makes us less safe. So, all what is happening is you are hearing expressions, for the most part of, of people that are frustrated, whether they are in Arizona, whether they are in California, Texas, across the country.

What you are not hearing is the federal government saying we need a new immigration policy. It hasn't been changed since the '20s. It's broken. It only rewards the smugglers, the coyotes that are willing to kill anybody and hurt anyone, irrespective of their nationality or what state --

KING: Let come in on this point. You in your state of the city address a while back talked about extremists hijacking state government. One of the people you don't get along with very well is your county sheriff, Joe Arpaio. We had him on the program a long -- short time ago, and he supports this law. You both oppose it.

But he says the problem is not in Arizona. He agrees with you. The problem is right here in Washington. Listen to the sheriff.


SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Well I think when you have that billion-dollar fence and hop over the president should say you are automatically going to jail. No one talks about what happens. And also, let the -- follow the sheriff's programs and start arresting the illegal aliens that happen to be in our country. That's what I would say.


KING: Now, neither of you agree with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but do you agree with him on this point? We have a Democratic president who promised the immigration reforms you are talking about. We have a large Democratic majority in House and a large Democratic majority in the Senate. Is the source of this law that you both oppose right here in Washington, D.C., not the Arizona legislature, not the Arizona governor, if President Obama to you first, to you Mayor Villaraigosa, if he had kept his promise, would we be here? VILLARAIGOSA: Well we all agree this is a broken immigration system. We all agree that in a post-September 11th era, we ought to be able to secure our borders. And according to the Pew (ph) study, the vast majority of Americans, more than 70 percent, believe that we need to provide a pathway for citizenship --

KING: Whose fault is it we haven't done that in 15 months of a Democratic administration?

VILLARAIGOSA: It is primarily the fault of the federal government because it is a federal responsibility. It's not a city responsibility or a state responsibility. Under our Constitution that responsibility for enforcement of our immigration laws lies with the federal government. And that means the solution, the fixing of that problem starts there.

KING: He is being diplomatic. He says the federal government. Does it lie with President Obama and the Democratic Congress, in your view?

GORDON: It lies with the Democratic Congress and the Republican Congress. It is going to take both parties. I started four years ago going to Congress, when then-President Bush was there, asking for the border security, more agents on the border. Mayor Villaraigosa helped me as chair -- when I was chair of homeland security and border reform -- deaf ears. The same right now in the sense of everyone is saying we've got to wait until after the November elections.

Let me tell you, violence is a real, real possibility, not just in Phoenix, but across this United States. You have armed militias. You have anarchists that want this thing to explode. We have criminals that are crossing our border, now knowing that in Arizona, officers are going to be looking for dishwashers and hotel workers and not doing the investigative work. And we have let the pressure off Washington. It is about the Democrats and the Republicans having the courage to stand up and do what is needed now. It is a national priority, not waiting until January.

KING: Mayor Gordon, Mayor Villaraigosa, thank you both for your time today. It's an important issue. We will keep on top of it.


John King, USA

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter