Hispanic Republican Candidates Challenging Ed Pastor Offer Opposing Views on 1070


Two Republicans running against Democrat Ed Pastor in Congressional District 4 give voters a distinct choice between moderate and extreme right-wing views on immigration.

Once they get to the general election, neither Jose "Joe" Penalosa nor Janet Contreras probably stand a chance in the heavy-on-the-Dems district that encompasses parts of Phoenix, Laveen and Glendale.

But the outcome of Tuesday's Republican primary in the district will be another indicator showing the importance of SB1070 to conservative voters.

Contreras fully supports Arizona's tough, new anti-illegal-immigrant law.

Penalosa, a longtime Valley immigration attorney, says he would not have signed the bill into law.

Both say they are motivated primarily by the failure of Ed Pastor to do, well, just about anything of substance.

Contreras is a newcomer to conservative politics.

She's a native Californian who moved to Phoenix seven years ago and obtained a degree in computer science. A lifelong Democrat until recently, she even worked occasionally on the campaigns for Democratic politicians. She decided two years ago, during President Obama's campaign for president, to switch her allegiance to the Republican Party.

"I realized I wasn't a Democrat. Once I sat down and saw what it really meant, I decided it didn't describe me at all," Contreras says. "Basically, you know, God, country, family -- those are things I could identity with."

SB1070 is also something she identifies with. She believe that her husband, a Mexican immigrant, is a great example of someone who immigrated the proper way.

"He carried the green card in his wallet for 30 years. He became a citizen when he decided he wanted to vote," she says.

Contreras questions the fairness of a system in which some people wait for years to come here legally, while others just jump the fence. And she questions whether the United States can afford to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants already here. She's not averse to using military troops to help "seal" the border.

"People who came here illegally knew they were doing something that is not right," she says. "I need people to obey the laws."

Penalosa, on the other hand, says he's committed to immigration enforcement -- but only in a "humane way."

Though he lives outside of the district in Scottsdale, Penalosa has done immigration law work in  CD4 for 20 years. He runs his law firm out of an office in the district at 200 East Mitchell Drive, near Osborn Road and Central Avenue. His father and wife are immigrants from Mexico.

"People might say, 'You're helping the so-called illegal alien,'" he says. "Well, our country is based on equity and justice."

No doubt, Penalosa has generated plenty of good will in the immigrant community through his work. He's helped the undocumented as well as legal immigrants who get caught up in minor crimes, such as smoking pot, and face the "lifetime banishment" of deportation. 

The lawyer has a number of problems with 1070, chief of which is its failure to give even a "nod" to justice and humanity. Federal statutes refer to the positive aspects of immigration, particulary in reuniting family members, he points out. He worries that, for example, 1070 makes it a crime to drive an illegal immigrant to the hospital in an emergency. He's also concerned about the racial profiling he feels would be part of enforcing 1070.

The new law makes the state look foolish to the rest of the country, has given the Republican Party a black eye, hurts tourism and is "causing people to leave the tax base, which is anti-Republican," Penalosa says. He would have sent the law back to the drawing board and involved more businesspeople and community leaders in its formation.

Penalosa is opposed to the anti-immigrant sweeps of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio because they target Hispanic-heavy neighborhoods -- another example of racial profiling. And if the United States wants to build a wall between it and Mexico, Penalosa says the government should "build it on the northern border, too and be fair."

All that being said, Penalosa does support some parts of the law, even if he thinks they'll never be put into action because of the conflicts with federal law. For instance, he believes immigrants should be required to show proper identification when stopped by authorities. And Penalosa has traditional conservative values on other issues, like abortion.

Both Republican candidates say, not surprisingly, that they've found the campaign road a bit bumpy this year.

"Fellow Hispanics will look at me and say, 'What's going on with you?'" Penalosa says.

Contreras describes how she held a "town hall" meeting at a downtown Phoenix park the weekend after Governor Brewer signed 1070 where the discussion "got a little hot."

"I allowed it get a little loud and hot at times," Contreras says of the meeting. "But in the end, we left laughing."

In this political climate, and especially in CD4, Hispanic Republicans probably couldn't get through the day without a good sense of humor.


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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.