PHOENIX - As national leaders rev up the debate on border security and immigration reform, Arizona Democrats are fighting a losing battle in the Legislature to reopen the discussion on how this border state treats illegal immigrants.
Democratic lawmakers complain Arizona's tough immigration law is an embarrassment to the state that hurts tourism and stifles economic development.
But even they concede that efforts to repeal the 2010 law have no chance in the Republican-led Legislature. "They are telling us absolutely no," said state Sen. Steve Gallardo, who is pushing a bill to overturn Senate Bill 1070 for the second consecutive year. "I believe the vast majority of Arizonans believe SB 1070 is the worst piece of legislation ever passed.
Gallardo and State Representative John Kavanagh butted heads briefly and somewhat comically outside the Senate building when Gallardo interrupted his address to the press. Democrats are trying to introduce bills in both the House and the Senate.
"Why not hear it?" asked Gallardo and Kavanagh pushed back asking if Gallardo had suddenly become part of the press. "This is the place to debate it," said Kavanagh. "It is not legitimate legislation."
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that three of the four most contentious parts of the law were unconstitutional, Republican leaders argue the law is good policy and does what it is supposed to do -- go after illegal immigrants.
"They lost. Get used to it. The people of America want a secure border," Rep. John Kavanagh, one of the Republican leaders behind the immigration law, told reporters outside the Senate Thursday. "1070 delivered what it promised to deliver."
The most contentious part of Arizona's law required police to question people's immigration status while enforcing other laws. That provision was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Democrats hold little power in the Republican-led Legislature, and they know it.
Gallardo joined several other Democratic and Hispanic lawmakers at a news conference Thursday designed to bring their case against the immigration law to the public.
Gallardo said GOP leaders won't let his bill be heard in committee. House Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales said her immigration reform bill wasn't even assigned to a committee.
Both said they need the public's support to force debate at the Legislature.
"We should not have to wait for these lawsuits," Gallardo said. "Let's have this bill repealed now."