Furious Immigration Debate Shapes Congressional Race

Incumbent congresswoman castigates administration and senate, but faces fierce attack from Republicans

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Facing both budget setbacks and furious attacks from a crowded field of Republican challenges, 1st District Congressional Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick this week condemned both the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration for positions on the hot-button topic of immigration.

Kirkpatrick has walked a political high wire for weeks, condemning both Arizona’s SB 1070 that authorizes local police to enforce federal immigration laws as well as the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn that law.

This week, she also harshly criticized the Senate for cutting money from a budget bill that would have hired an additional 1,200 border patrol agents.

“Is it any wonder why Arizonans are so fed up with Washington on border security?” said Kirkpatrick.

“This funding is critical to the planned security surge along the border. While we need far more manpower and resources than this plan would provide, it would be a first step in the right direction. Now instead of joining the House in increasing the commitment to better border communities, the Senate is actually standing in our way.”

Kirkpatrick, the only Arizona representative on the House’s Committee on Homeland Security, had earlier introduced legislation calling for hiring an additional 3,500 border patrol agents. The scaled down provision dropped from the Senate’s supplemental appropriations bill had also included money for two surveillance drones to be deployed along the border.

Kirkpatrick has criticized the state’s SB 1070, which allows local police to check immigration status whenever they have reason to make a stop for some other reason and to arrest anyone who can’t prove citizenship. But she has also termed the Obama administration’s lawsuit seeking to halt enforcement of that state law as “a waste of money.” Neither 1070 or the federal lawsuit will do anything to secure the border, she maintains.

She also praised SB 1070 for calling attention to the failure of the federal government to secure the border.

She has for months criticized federal border protection efforts but supported as a good “first step” a recent $500 million Obama administration plan to add 1,000 border patrol agents, 160 customs officials and two aerial drones to the border force, in addition to shifting $100 million previously earmarked for a “virtual fence” using surveillance techniques that the Department of Homeland Security had decided wouldn’t work.

Kirkpatrick had a 16 percentage point margin against Republican Sydney Hay two years ago, winning a seat previously held by Republicans.

The eight Republicans vying for the right to run against the freshman Kirkpatrick have all fiercely supported SB 1070 and most have supported the construction of a double-fence the length of the Arizona border, patrolled by armed military units.

All eight Republican candidates appeared in Payson last week at a gathering of Republican precinct workers from throughout the vast district, which stretches from Flagstaff, over to the Navajo Reservation, across Rim Country and all the way down to Casa Grande.

Those candidates include Hay, seeking a rematch, plus lawyer Bradley Beauchamp, former state lawmaker Rusty Bowers, dentist Paul Gosar, cardiologist Steve Mehta, economist Tom Zaleski, Jon Jensen and Joe Jaraczewski.

Beauchamp wins straw poll

Beauchamp came out on top by a wide margin in a survey of the roughly 300 people who attended that forum in Payson. His presentation stressed immigration issues and a plan to tighten the border. He said he had won the endorsement of border patrol agents in Tucson. Beauchamp got the top ranking from 51 percent of those who attended, followed by Bowers at 17 percent, Mehta at 14 percent and former mining industry lobbyist Hay at 9 percent. The other four candidates split the remaining 9 percent of the vote.

However, last week Flagstaff dentist Gosar snagged a coveted endorsement by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Kirkpatrick opposed to SB1070

Kirkpatrick’s opposition to SB 1070 on both practical and constitutional grounds put her at odds with the entire Republican field, all of who strongly supported local enforcement of federal immigration laws. Several called for the U.S. to also sue Mexico to recover the cost of services provided to undocumented workers, after several top Mexican officials said they were considering legal action against Arizona — on top of a developing boycott of Arizona events and programs.

Most of the candidates also supported building a fence along much of the border, preferably a double fence with nearby armed outposts so that troops could respond before border crossers could cut through the second fence.

Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, has generally called for a major increase in resources for the border patrol, but supported fencing only key stretches of the border. She introduced legislation to provide body armor and modern technology to the border patrol as well as a law to crack down on money laundering by drug cartels.

Nearly all of the Republican candidates also firmly opposed any policy that hinted at amnesty, to provide a way to legalize the status of the estimated 11 million non-citizens living in the country illegally.

Kirkpatrick also says she opposed “amnesty,” but seemed to leave the door open to some system by which undocumented workers could win legal status. She has called for the deportation of any illegal immigrants convicted of a crime, but suggested people who could prove they were working and paying taxes could pay a fine and then go to the end of the line to earn citizenship by proving they could speak English, read the Constitution and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

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