An immigration conference that's taking a critical look at SB 1070 is taking place Saturday in Mesa, the home of state Senate President Russell Pearce.
The conference is the third of five events planned across Arizona to gain support for federal reform. Sponsors made sure to stop in Mesa to include conservatives as they examine whether Arizona's recent immigration laws are working, said Todd Landfried, spokesman for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.
The sponsors have been critical of Arizona's recent immigration laws but aren't simply trying to overturn SB 1070, Landfried said.
"We have some really conservative people coming to talk so this isn't a bunch of lefties coming here to bash what Arizona is doing," Landfried said.
Speakers include Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican. Paul Bridges, a Republican mayor of a Georgia community, will discuss how that state's immigration laws have hurt the agricultural industry and tax base in his rural area. Also, Julie Erfle, the widow of a Phoenix police officer killed by an illegal immigrant, will discuss how her tragedy has shaped her views.
East Valley lawmakers including Pearce, the author of SB 1070, have been invited. Landfried said he doesn't know how many legislators will attend.
The event's speakers will explore what parts of Arizona's immigration laws work and which elements are creating problems. Landfried said the law triggered Hispanics to leave Arizona, reducing business for stores where they shopped. And employers can't hire the employees they need, he said.
"It's a mistake really to say all employers want is cheap labor. We need access to labor when we need it," Landfried said. "The vast, vast, vast majority of Arizona businesses comply with the law. We're as patriotic as anybody else, but don't make it impossible for us to have access to the labor that we need."
Sponsors plan to assemble a report after the fifth conference this fall and then to work on federal reform, said James Garcia, founder of The Real Arizona Coalition. He believes pressure is building to end the reform deadlock, citing the Legislature's action to kill a controversial immigration bill earlier this year. On the other side, Garcia said his organization played a role in this month's decision by the National Council of La Raza to end its Arizona boycott.
A previous Tempe forum sold out with more than 200 attending. The Mesa event has a capacity of 160. The future forums are scheduled in Yuma and Tucson.
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