Ariz. AG Supports Immigration Reform, But Not New Law

Michele Norris talks with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who is running for governor in that state. Goddard has been a strong proponent of border security, but he opposes Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Goddard says what's needed is stronger federal controls.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with Arizona's controversial immigration law. SB 1070 is set to go into effect next Thursday, assuming a federal judge doesn't step in and block it. The job of enforcing the law would fall to Arizona's Attorney General Terry Goddard.

NORRIS: Goddard is the Democratic candidate for governor, challenging Republican Jan Brewer. He's also the state's highest profile opponent of SB 1070.

As attorney general, Goddard is trying to walk a fine political line by opposing both the law and the federal government's lawsuit challenging it.

Earlier this month, Goddard wrote a letter to President Obama, arguing that the government's effort to fight SB 1070 were, in his words, just wrong.

Mr. TERRY GODDARD (Democrat, Gubernatorial Candidate; Attorney General, Arizona): The critical issues, constitutionally, were already before the court in Arizona. There are six, with the Justice Department, now seven lawsuits against the state. I would much prefer, rather than lawsuits, some long-term solutions.

And we've been hurting in Arizona for a long time, ever since, frankly, 1986 when the last revision to the immigration laws was made, because the federal government has been missing in action on immigration. We've had no adjustments, essentially, to the work permits, to the visas that allow people to come in to this country and work.

And there became a tacit understanding that the only way, especially in the Southwest, you could grow or the economy could flourish was with immigrant labor. And there was no way to legally bring in the immigrant labor, so they came in as illegals. And that created a divided situation in Arizona and in much of the country that we're now wrestling with in a really anguishing struggle that's nationwide.

NORRIS: In this letter, you said that the administration's decision to challenge the Arizona law before it takes effect has created substantial and justifiable anger in Arizona.

Are you upset that the Justice Department is trampling on the 10th Amendment or that they're willfully disregarding the will of the people in Arizona?

Mr. GODDARD: Well, I guess my issue is really deeper than that and that was we need a long-term solution. You can solve the problem of having a large number of people in this country illegally.

But the kind of action the 1070 promises, which is essentially police action, which is going to be I think just thousands of individual anguishing moments that frankly will divide and rip apart the country. Or you can have immigration, because that has the same effect. That would allow a procedure to have people in this country working legally and it will allow the rule of law to apply to everybody.

And right now you've got perhaps 11 million people in the United States who are literally in the shadows, who are victimized by the economy and by many employers and are constantly in danger of being thrown out of the country. Many of them are families that have children who are citizens, the parents are not.

Now you have a completely, almost impossible situation. You throw the parents out, leave the kids here on welfare. So what I'm struggling with is a question of law enforcement, first and foremost. How do you secure the border? How do you fight back against border crime? And frankly, the suit against Arizona is, in my opinion, a distraction.

NORRIS: Overall in the state of Arizona, there's broad support for SB 1070. Why do so many people think this law is a good idea?

Mr. GODDARD: It goes back to the point I tried to make before, which is that there has been a nodding acquiescence at the federal level to a large number of people crossing the border illegally and working in the economy. I've been frustrated by that.

As a law enforcement official, I believe many people in Arizona and across the country feel that if we've got immigration laws, they ought to be enforced. They said, well, somebody finally done something. Maybe it's not perfect, but at least we see some action.

Now the interesting thing is that a similar percentage of people in Arizona in a different poll have said that they also support comprehensive immigration reform. And I think on first blush you'd say that's completely inconsistent.

The inconsistency I think is resolved by the fact that either way, either through 1070 or at least the intention behind 1070 or through immigration reform, you get everybody on the same page. You have one set of standards. You have one set of rules. You have a government of laws. And I think that's what people are crying for.

NORRIS: Mr. Goddard, thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. GODDARD: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

NORRIS: Terry Goddard is the attorney general for the state of Arizona. He's also the Democratic candidate for governor. On Monday, we'll hear more of my conversation with the attorney general about his efforts to fight drug cartels south of the border.

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