Arizona Republicans Look for Softer Immigration Alternatives

Several Arizona Republicans are calling for their party to take a new approach toward immigration, rather than relying only on tough enforcement policies.

The Arizona Republic reports that some Republicans are calling for a guest-worker program and letting undocumented immigrants gain legal status.

Among the notable Arizona Republicans calling for a shift are Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a supporter of Senate Bill 1070, the state's tough immigration-enforcement law, and Mesa businessman Bob Worsley, who defeated former state Senate President Russell Pearce in a Senate race in last month's Republican primary.

Pearce, the main architect of Senate Bill 1070, was voted out of office in a recall election last year in which he was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a charter-school administrator from Mesa who also is a prominent voice in support of alternative approaches to illegal immigration.

The move to embrace what Republican supporters consider a more practical, market-driven approach contrasts starkly with enforcement-only laws such as SB 1070 that conservative Republicans in Arizona have pushed for years.

The effort to shift the immigration debate comes as influential Republicans in other states, such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, also are seeking a broader approach toward tackling illegal immigration. But whether the shift will gain traction remains to be seen.

Conservatives still dominate the GOP-controlled state Legislature, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer continues to be an ardent defender of SB 1070 and a fierce critic of illegal immigration.

Efforts to recast the GOP's approach to illegal immigration in Arizona are motivated by many factors, including pressure from business groups and leaders who feel that enforcement-only laws have hurt the state's reputation and the economy. Also, there is an attempt to win over politically important Latino voters turned off by the Republican Party's harsh stance on illegal immigration.

"This is something I believe the Republican Party is ready to talk about in Arizona, and it was not going to happen with Russell Pearce in office," Worsley told the Arizona Republic. Worsley received 56 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for Pearce, in last month's primary race and will face Democrat Greg Gadek in November.

"This is a significant shift away from what looks like a hard-hearted, harsh-enforcement police state versus being sensitive to a multicultural population that we have with some compassion and keeping families together," Worsley said.

Montgomery, who supported SB 1070 when he campaigned for Maricopa County attorney in 2010, has been touting the four-point plan at speaking engagements around the Valley.

He said he still believes SB 1070 was a good law because it was effective at achieving "attrition through enforcement," a strategy aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of the state by making life as difficult as possible for them.

"What I am talking about is what comes next" after SB 1070, Montgomery said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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