THAT IMMIGRATION PUSH
A whole bunch of Arizona business leaders joined counterparts from across the nation last week to fly into Washington, D.C., to lobby members of the House of Representatives on the stalled comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year.
We'll soon see if the effort had an impact. House Republicans have been resisting any legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States.
Last week, Sen. John McCain once again made the pitch for that path to citizenship during a speech at Georgetown University last week.
McCain said that the "overwhelming majority" of the 11 million undocumented people now in the U.S. are "contributing to our economy."
"They're not leaving," McCain said. "We're not going to line up in buses and send them down to Mexico or wherever the hell it is people want them sent to. So as long as they are here and we're not going to deport them, that's de facto amnesty."
And, McCain added, the Border Patrol is continuing to find bodies in the Arizona desert and Phoenix cops are continuing to bust drop houses where immigrants are kept in deplorable conditions.
"So there's a human element to this as well," he said.
And a political element: McCain repeated his prediction that Republicans will continue to alienate Republicans until immigration reform passes.
"If Republicans were part of the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, we would be on a level playing field to be able to compete for Hispanic voters," he said.
McCain remained "optimistic" that House leaders would act on the legislation.
"My hope is that my colleagues will recognize how strongly the America people disapprove of all of us, because we don't do anything for them, in their view," McCain said. "All we do is fight each other. And to join together, perhaps, in enacting comprehensive immigration reform or partial immigration reform would show them that there are areas where we can cooperate."
The clock is running out. The House is scheduled to work just 15 more days between now and the end of the year—and once the 2014 midterm election year arrives, passing any legislation becomes even more difficult than it is now.
This week, the U.S. Senate moved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act past cloture and into debate. The vote required 60 votes, as the GOP tends to filibuster most everything these days.
ENDA, which would prohibit businesses from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity, got 61 votes.
Among those opposing the bill: Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who told the Arizona Republic he voted against the legislation because "unlike a 2007 version of this bill, which I supported, the Senate bill includes new provisions that will increase the potential for litigation and compliance costs, especially for small businesses."
Arizona Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, was busy taping an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and couldn't be in Washington to vote, according to his Twitter feed. Priorities, priorities.
House Speaker John Boehner told the press this week that he opposed the legislation, so—as with immigration reform—the likelihood of it going anywhere is slim.
With the last bits of the Obama administration's federal stimulus program winding down, recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—aka SNAP benefits—are seeing a cut in their monthly allowance.
The exact amount of the cuts depend on the size of your family: A single-member family will see a cut of $11 a month, while a family of four will lose $36 a month.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as a result of the SNAP reductions, Arizona will lose $12 million in federal dollars between now and Sept. 30, 2014. The cut will affect more than a million SNAP recipients.
You may know SNAP better as food stamps, which was the old name of the program that helps low-income folks feed their families.
On top of that, Washington lawmakers are still hammering out whether SNAP will face more cuts. GOP lawmakers in the House voted in September to cut the program by nearly $40 billion over the next decade, with many of the savings coming as a result of new eligibility standards that would kick many current recipients off the program, according to a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.
The Senate has voted for a more generous farm bill that did not include the SNAP cuts.
Jack Parrish, a spokesman for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, said officials with the food bank are preparing to see demand increase as a result of the federal cuts.
"Those people who are losing SNAP benefits are going to have to look for some way to make up those benefits that they lost and we think they're probably going to have to come to the food bank," Parrish said. Parrish added that requests for help from the food bank are already up 6 percent this year—and that's following a steady increase in needy families over the last four or five years, according to Parrish.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is taking aim at Pima Community College over the governing board's vote to allow undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they have entered into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Instituted by the Obama administration, DACA allows children and young adults who arrived in the United States as minors and who have stayed out of trouble to remain in the United States without fear of deportation.
Horne has already sued the Maricopa County Community College District over the in-state tuition issue.
Last month, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Kyman Cooper sent a letter to PCC officials to asking that the college confirm that it "is granting in-state tuition to DACA recipients with an I-766 Employment Authorization Document, and provide us with the basis for Pima Community College's conclusion that it could do so without violating state law."
PCC general counsel Jeffrey Silvan responded last week by noting that attorneys had carefully reviewed legal options before the governing board granted the in-state tuition to DACA kids.
In his letter back to the AG's office, Silvan explains the college is splitting some crucial legal hairs: He maintains that the DACA program provides students with "lawful presence" in the United States, even if it does not confirm that they have "lawful immigration status." And, they argue, "lawful presence" is all that is necessary.
So what's at stake? Well, according to Silvan's letter, only 155 of the nearly 27,000 students at PCC are in the DACA program. Why Horne would want to see them kicked out of school and denied the opportunity to succeed in America is baffling.
Horne might argue that he is obligated to follow the law in every single circumstance—but that rings rather hollow in the wake of the recent investigation by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who determined that Horne himself had violated campaign-finance laws by orchestrating an allegedly independent campaign committee that ran a bunch of hit ads targeting his Democratic opponent in the 2010 AG's race.
Horne has denied those charges, but it's hard to argue that they are politically motivated. Polk—who has ordered Horne to pay $400,000 or face a legal hearing and a possible $1.2 million fine—is a Republican elected official, as it Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who also concluded that Horne had illegally colluded with the independent committee. (See "Prosecuting the Prosecutor," Oct. 24, for details.)
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Jim Nintzel hosts AZ Illustrated Politics, airing at 6:30 p.m. every Friday on PBS 6. The program repeats on 12:30 a.m. Saturday.