Greg Stanton, Kaci Demarest, WEB

Stanton says immigration reform should be a priority

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton told a panel of mayors here that immigration reform needs to be Hillary Clinton’s “No. 1 domestic priority” if she is elected in November.

Stanton stressed the importance of “young, bilingual, entrepreneurial” Latinos to Arizona’s economy, saying that comprehensive immigration reform would give the city a boost.

“It would be an incredible shot in the arm for our local economy,” Stanton said at the Monday event. “The city of Phoenix would benefit more than any other large city.”

Stanton joined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other immigration officials as a part of a panel hosted by Kenney’s office.

Stanton agreed with de Blasio that a President Clinton would need to make progress on immigration reform in her first year – what they believe is her best chance to win sweeping changes. They cited President Barack Obama’s first year, saying they wished he had taken the opportunity then to work more on immigration rather than health care reform.

“There was an opportunity for bigger change,” de Blasio said. “A lot of us look longingly at the first year of Obama.”

David Lubell, founder, board member and executive director of Welcoming America, said that cities like Phoenix play an important role in immigration – sometimes even more important than national policy.

“Cities get (stuff) done, frankly,” Lubell said. “Facts on the ground trump national rhetoric.”

Both de Blasio and Stanton took the opportunity to take shots at Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a noted Donald Trump supporter, for his record on immigration.

De Blasio thanked Stanton for “fighting against your dear sheriff” as he spoke about racial profiling of Latinos by police, saying that back in the day his Southern Italian grandfather may have been subjected to similar profiling.

Kenney also hit on the law enforcement issue, saying that undocumented immigrants need to feel safe calling police to help them in dangerous situations without fear of deportation.

“You cannot police effectively if your citizenry is afraid of your police,” Kenney said.

While he said action needs to take place at the federal level, Stanton also said Arizona needs to work or improve its own actions and image with immigrants and immigration issues.

Stanton said Arpaio contributes to Arizona’s reputation as an “unwelcoming, divisive” place for immigrants.

“We won’t be able to restore our reputation until he’s gone,” Stanton said during the panel discussion.

Arpaio brushed off the mayor’s comments Tuesday as politics.

“I get along great with his police department, his union endorses me,” Arpaio said. “I smell a little politics. I know I spoke at the convention. I think he was seeing me on national TV talking illegal immigration, supporting Donald Trump.”

But Stanton said that some kind of change will be necessary for Arizona’s progress.

“We can’t continue to have this reputation as this unwelcoming, divisive place,” he said. “We’ve got to change that reputation if we want to advance our economy.”

When panel moderator and Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar wrapped up by asking each participant for their one piece of advice for whomever ends up in the Oval Office in 2016, Stanton’s message was clear.

“If the man wins, the wall is a really dumb idea,” Stanton said, referring to Republican nominee Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall at the Mexican border.

“If the right candidate wins, look back and see the mistake he (Obama) made going with healthcare,” he said. “Don’t make that mistake – make this your highest domestic priority from day one.”

By Emily Zentner, Cronkite News

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