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Conference of Mayors Can “Move the Needle” on Immigration Policy, Villaraigosa Tells Mayors

January 28, 2013

Immediate Past President Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s message to the mayors attending the 81st Winter Meeting of The U.S. Conference of Mayors was that, while the national political agenda is packed with issues such as the debt ceiling, long term fiscal stability, infrastructure, gun violence, and winding down the war in Afghanistan, “There are few more fundamental questions that we face than: who we welcome to our shores, how we secure our borders, what we do to include the millions of undocumented men and women who work hard and do the hardest work, and how we keep them safely together with their five million citizen children.” These questions, he said, “go straight to the heart of who we are as a people.”

Addressing the January 19 plenary session of this year’s meeting, Villaraigosa, the immediate Past President of the organization, recalled the day in March 2006 when the immigration issue became a very personal one for him, a day on which one million immigrants marched on Los Angeles City Hall. “People who worked hard, who were humble but who were tired of being scapegoated, tired of hearing the catcalls that they were the cause of all the country’s problems, tired of being told to go home, to go back where they came from.”

“Now is the time for comprehensive, not piecemeal, immigration reform,” Villaraaigosa told his audience. “And now is the time for the nation’s mayors to assert our leadership in this crucial debate.”

The mayor had delivered a speech on immigration reform to Washington’s National Press Club earlier in the week and recapped for the mayors his message that day. “The system is broken and now is the time to fix it. Reform must be balanced. Immigrants must take personal responsibility for their actions. But as they do, we must provide them with a meaningful path forward to become full members of American society. We have every right to enforce our laws and protect our borders. But at the same time, we need to encourage the aspirations of immigrants.”

Villaraigosa cites six “pillars” of immigration policy:

“One, a pathway to legal permanent residency and citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants must be at the core of reform….

“Two, legalization should be earned, but not unattainable….

“Three, family unification should continue as a key priority of our immigration policy….

“Four, the hard work and talent of immigrants fuels our economy….

“Five, immigration reform must include an effective and efficient employment verification system….

“Six, we must protect our border through smart enforcement….We spend more money on border enforcement than we do for the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, and all the federal law enforcement agencies combined.”

The Conference of Mayors has been “a strong and consistent voice for common sense reform,” Villaraigosa said. “In 2008, we passed a resolution calling for immigration reform that was comprehensive, that promoted family unification, and that provided a path to citizenship. In the coming months, we will again be called to be part of the national debate on our immigration future.”

“Mayors, we must answer this call. We don’t have a vote, but we have a voice. And together, we can move the needle. Together, we can push our national leaders to enact reform that is good for our cities, good for our economy and good for our country. Together we can lead,” he said.