Monday, January 07, 2008

Hate Fueling Immigration Debate

Mayor: Hate Fueling Immigration Debate

PHOENIX – Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon says the debate over illegal immigration is turning racist and hateful and something needs to be done before the situation gets out of control.

“People are calling this a game. It’s not a game. It’s becoming life and death for a lot of people,” Gordon said, speaking exclusively to News/Talk 92-3 KTAR. “This has got to stop and it has to stop now.”

Gordon said extremists have seized control of the immigration issue and believe they have authority to say who belongs in the country and who doesn’t.

“It’s outrageous conduct on the part of these individuals who have proclaimed themselves self-judges of who belongs in our country and who doesn’t belong in our country,” the mayor said. “What’s going on now is the worst of the worst things individuals turn to, out of fear. They’re starting to hate.”

Gordon’s comments brought a strong reaction from Rick Galeener, one of the demonstrators who gathered at a north Phoenix day labor center for the 10th straight day on Monday.

“This is ridiculous,” Galeener said. “Our mayor should be ashamed of himself for standing up for illegal activity and calling American citizens racist. This is ricidulous.”

He added, “Mayor Gordon, get off your butt and do something. Otherwise, we need to change the system of government we have in this city.”

Some of the opponents of illegal immigration have ties to dangerous hate groups, Gordon said.

“If you check the websites of some of these individual groups and individuals who are involved right here in our city, you’ll see the ties to neo-nazis, you’ll see the ties to skinheads, you’ll see the ties to racist hate groups.”

There’s no easy solution to the problem, but a comprehensive immigration reform package needs to be done now, Gordon said. “Not wait two years, not wait until after the presidential elections are over, but start working on it now. It needs enforceable borders, it needs a work force vista that can be tracked for the millions of people who are here legally.”

Immigration reform must include a process that leads to citizenship by immigrants going to the back of the line, not the front, the mayor said.

Galeener said his group would continue its protests outside the day labor center until it closed permanently.

Salvador Reza, who operates the center near 25th Street and Bell Road, vowed it would not be shut down.

Both sides complained that innocent people have been caught in the crossfire of the heated debate at the center.

Gordon said he has tried to mediate disputes.

“I pled with both sides, for the leaders to come in and let’s work through this. They both put unreasonable demands, impossible demands on me before they would come in. These extremists that are leading some of these protects, they don’t want a solution, they want problems.”

Late last year, Gordon named a four-member panel to study changes in Phoenix Police policy which currently bans officers from questioning people they stop about their citizenship status. He is still waiting for recommendations.

A similar question has come up in Mesa, where Police Chief George Gascon has come under fire for his policy that officers will not ask about immigration status at all stops. Mesa has been called a sanctuary city because of the policy, but City Councilman Tom Rawles said that is not so.

Rawles, speaking on the Jay Lawrence Show, said he does not know and does not care what Gascon’s personal views are. “They policy is being set by the council and not the chief.”

Rawles said the city does turn over illegal aliens to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and that have officers ask about immigration status would add 40 minutes of police work to every stop.

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