The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure last week that declares the municipality an “immigrant welcoming county.”
The resolution, which Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is calling “symbolic” and “nonbinding,” is intended to bring attention to the significant impact that immigrants have on the county and state’s economic welfare.
According to a study by researchers with the University of Arizona, Mexican visitors spent $976.4 million in 2007-08, making up 5.2 percent of the county’s sales tax. The resolution states that every day 400,000 people and 15,000 containers cross the U.S.-Mexican border legally, and that an estimated 6 million jobs in the United States depend on trade with Mexico.
Board Chair Sharon Bronson of District 3 revived the measure, which has been tabled for more than a year since community religious leaders brought it forward.
While Huckelberry said the item is not intended to make a political statement about illegal immigration, he acknowledged it “does urge the U.S. Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform, which is merely a nod to a universal belief, regardless of party affiliation, that the current system doesn’t work effectively.”
“Relationships demand cultivation, open channels of communication and mutual respect. This resolution is a foundation for that continuing dialogue,” said Huckelberry.
Reverend Randy Mayer, one of the religious leaders backing the resolution, was less hesitant to bring politics into the discussion.
While the resolution does not address the immigration bill known as SB1070, Mayer said he hopes the title of “immigrant welcoming” will help revive the county’s image after it was “torn apart” by the bill’s passage in 2010.
“Members and friends of our congregation have been targets of overzealous law enforcement officers, and the overall trust and community fabric has been shredded,” he said.
The founder of that bill, Gov. Jan Brewer, was in Oro Valley touring businesses the same day the resolution passed. She recently returned from Mexico, where among other topics, she and state delegates discussed continued commerce.
She said immigration laws have not affected economics.
“We all know Mexico has been our largest trading partner forever in Arizona,” she said. “We’ve always had a good healthy relationship as far as business is concerned. I believe people are still probably concerned about border security, but the gates are wide open (for business).”
Some in last week’s meeting said the resolution is too vague, and can be interpreted as encouraging illegal immigration. County resident Keith Van Heyningen called the measure “a farse.”
“We have immigration laws,” he said. “We have limits set for a reason. You prefer that people would break them.”
District 2 Supervisor Ally Miller, who had remained silent on the issue until last week’s meeting, voiced her support for it despite the fact some news outlets predicted her ‘no’ vote. Reiterating a point made by Felipe Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Visit Tucson, Miller said politics aside, the county is best off encouraging continued commerce with Mexico.
“The state of Arizona and Pima County need to ensure the human resources and infrastructure are in place to move goods and people across the border so the Tucson corridor becomes the inland port of choice for Mexican trade,” she said. “We already know that much of that trade is being directed to Texas… and we need to catch up to make sure we’re competitive in this global economy.”