Washington – The news that Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is distancing himself from his past leadership on comprehensive immigration reform is a sad commentary on the current contours of Republican Party politics. Flake, who is gearing up for a 2012 Senate run and apparently worried about a Republican primary, said in reference to comprehensive immigration reform, “I’ve been down that road, and it is a dead end. The political realities in Washington are such that a comprehensive solution is not possible, or even desirable given the current leadership. Border security must be addressed before other reforms are tackled.” Flake’s statement closely tracks the current position of Arizona’s two sitting senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both of whom supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Jeff Flake was once one of the real adults in the Republican Party on immigration reform. Voters want their leaders in Washington to address comprehensive immigration reform, and Rep. Flake used to be one of the loudest voices fighting for federal action. It’s sad that he is denouncing his previous position on the issue, instead of continuing to challenge the GOP to do the right thing for Arizona, the country, and the Party’s own political interests.”
Flake’s 180 degree reversal on immigration comes against the backdrop of several important developments that should give pause to Republican strategists in Arizona and beyond. New Census data for Arizona show that the Latino population there grew over 46 percent in the past decade and now comprises approximately 30 percent of the state, at just under 2 million persons. Additionally, there are more than 700,000 Arizona Latinos under the age of 18 – meaning that Latino voters will exert more and more influence in future Arizona elections. Latino voters strongly support comprehensive immigration reform, and want leaders to embrace a practical solution rather than pander to the far right on the issue.
In addition, the state’s business community is beginning to speak up about the damage that enforcement-only policies have had on the state, and the need for a smarter approach to immigration reform. Just last week, Arizona’s state legislature rejected the latest round of enforcement-only policies offered by the anti-immigrant wing of the Party, reflecting the growing wariness of Arizona’s business community, who opposed the measures, citing the “unintended consequences” of continued state-based crackdowns. As Glenn Hamer, chief executive of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “Now we have that experience under our belts. We know these measures can cause economic damage; it’s just a matter of degree.”
The enforcement-only push also ignores actual public sentiment in Arizona. An Arizona Republic poll in 2010 found that while 55 percent of the state’s residents supported the state’s “papers, please” immigration law, 62 percent of the state’s residents supported “allowing illegal immigrants who are living here now to remain in the country if they have a job and no criminal record.” The same story plays out nationally – in bipartisan polling from 2010, Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies found that three out of five voters nationwide supported the Arizona law; four out of five of the same voters who supported the Arizona law also supported comprehensive immigration reform with a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Said Sharry, “Pretending that we can enforce our way to control of the broken immigration system is a fool’s errand, blind to both long-term political implications and policy solutions. The country wants, and needs, comprehensive immigration reform.”
America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.