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On the heels of the historic recall of the architect of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, the fellow Republican who defeated him joined other Republicans Thursday to call for a kinder, gentler approach to addressing illegal immigration.
“We need to allow people who are here a pathway to square themselves with the law,” Lewis said in response to a question from Fox News Latino. “We need to consider the humane aspects, the aspects of keeping families together. . .guest worker programs that would lead the way” for those who qualify to legalize.
Lewis, 54, defeated Russell Pearce, a Tea Party favorite, in Arizona’s first recall election for a state legislator. Pearce outspent his challenger by more than a 3-1 ratio and painted the recall advocates as liberal outsiders who were targeting him because of immigration.
We need to allow people who are here a pathway to square themselves with the law.
Lewis and other Republicans who participated in the press conference said they hoped that other Republicans saw Pearce’s defeat as a rejection of harsh immigration policies. They said they wanted to provide an alternative image of Republicans on the issue of immigration – one that embraced both enforcement and compassion.
“We want to give support to those who are stepping up and being challenged by the right wing of the Republican Party,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Shurtleff, a Republican, said that many conservative Republicans in his state had been reluctant to support the Utah Compact, as well as immigration measures that addressed enforcement but also provisions that allowed the undocumented to work and pay taxes in Utah.
Nearly a year ago, on Nov. 11, a group that included political leaders, business owners and clergy signed the Utah Compact, a document that promotes a "rational" immigration debate. The Utah Compact is based on five principles: federal solutions, law enforcement, families, economy, and a free society. The Compact promotes ideas such as keeping families together and integrating immigrants into society.
"In Utah, conservative Republicans thought that tough, deportation-only proposals were politically popular," Shurtleff said, "but the Arizona recall election shows that not everyone in the Republican Party supports this fear-mongering approach."
Shurtleff said that he hoped that Lewis’s victory, which carried 53 percent of the vote, would show political leaders that “the right thing to do is sometimes not what they thought was the political thing to do."
Lewis said his victory shows that voters “want something done that will solve the problem [of illegal immigration] once and for all, and not just focus on enforcement only.”
"Our campaign strategy of developing a reasonable dialogue on immigration," he said, "served me well in this election."
Asked about the future of SB1070, the hard-line immigration law that Pearce authored, Lewis said he did not see the measure being repealed.
“SB1070 has already passed,” he said. “What I see, though, is an incorporation of law enforcement to the extent that it is needed” in dealing with illegal immigration, with “a more comprehensive approach.”
Advocates on the other side of the issue said in an Associated Press report that the election was more about Pearce's style than his policy, and that voters and lawmakers in Arizona and elsewhere have approved tough measures against illegal immigration.
"There were a lot of factors and (Pearce's critics) took advantage of them," said Ira Mehlman of the Federaion for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, which favors strict immigration policies. "But this in no way indicates that the position he took on immigration were any less popular with voters in this district and around the state."
Paul Bridges, the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, said in the telephone press conference that his state's immigration law was hurting the economy. Agricultural industry leaders in Georgia estimate a loss of at least $300 million and as much as $1 billion since laws targeting undocumented immigrants passed this year.
"I'm hoping this recall election is the turning point for conservative Republicans like us to understand we must move toward civility," Bridges said. "In Georgia we are feeling the effect. We don't have confidence we'll have the skilled labor force to get the crops [in spring and summer]."
"The laws that individual states are passing are destroying our local communities and ripping our families apart."
Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @Liz_Llorente