Longform

Jingo All the Way

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"In the Phoenix area," he says, "it's largely a case of whoever wants to work and has any job skills at all, can."

Unemployment in the Valley has reached 20-year lows. Outside the Valley, Rex says, it's another story. "In much of Arizona, there probably is an excess of labor, but they are probably very poorly trained."

Immigrants, Rex says, are having no trouble finding work. "We're creating an awful lot of low-wage jobs here. And a lot of those jobs would go begging if we didn't have people coming in from Mexico to take them."

But more Mexicans doesn't mean that others are being pushed out, Rex asserts. Take the housing construction industry, for example, which was once dominated by young white men. When the Arizona housing industry collapsed in the early Nineties, Rex says, many of those workers left the state or moved into other fields. Now, with a new building boom, there are more jobs, but because of the aging of the baby-boom generation, demographically fewer young white men. Young Mexican men have filled the jobs.

Rex is sympathetic to concerns that Arizona's rapid growth is too great and too haphazard. But "immigration," he says, "is not the driving force behind it. Immigration is merely the response to that economic circumstance that's happening. Growth . . . has a lot of problems, but immigration is not what's driving it."

Rob Smith of the Sierra Club responds in a similar way to concerns by the environmental groups participating in the Arizona media campaign, saying that he's dubious about a link between immigration and urban sprawl.

The Sierra Club itself faces an important vote in the spring, when its 600,000 members will be asked whether the club should take a stand on immigration or remain neutral, as it has in the past. Some Sierra Club members sympathize with Maria Sepulveda and Population-Environment Balance, but Smith thinks their numbers are low. He notes that only 2,000 signatures were needed to place the referendum on the club's ballot.

Smith scoffed at print ads prepared by Negative Population Growth, which feature a photograph of pristine Arizona desert and suggest that such landscapes are disappearing to house immigrants.

"Is Scottsdale a community of immigrants? Troon?" he asks. "It's not immigrants who are moving into the McDowell Mountains. There are definitely problems with urban sprawl. But my guess is that Phoenix would continue to see problems of urban sprawl even if the border had a 30-foot-high wall.

"There are sincere environmentalists who are concerned by this issue," Smith admits, but he says that Sierra Club's focus has historically been to concentrate on population as a global, not American, problem. "If you're too narrowly focused, you aren't solving the larger problem. It's one planet Earth that we need to be concerned about and not one country."

Dudley Gibson learned that he would be emceeing the November 10 press conference 15 minutes before it happened.

A retired Phoenix police officer, Gibson says he's been a member of FAIR for six years. It was a call from FAIR's Rick Oltman, Gibson says, that prompted him to found Maricopa County Immigration Control Advocates.

Gibson says Oltman wanted a Phoenix group involved in the media campaign and offered FAIR's help to incorporate. Gibson was able to call on other local FAIR members and soon had seven or eight members.

While not a groundswell of grassroots support, that number grew after the media campaign began. Gibson recently held the group's first organizational meeting, but he wouldn't allow a New Times writer to attend.

At a first meeting, he said, such a group was likely to attract a few rednecks. "We don't want radicals in this group. We don't want racists," he says.

Gibson said the meeting went well, and the group's membership has passed 20.
Gibson's nascent group will no doubt grow, thanks in part to FAIR's boosting. But its small size indicates that from the start, this effort has been promoted by national groups.

The persuasive nature of Roy Beck's lecture on population numbers suggests that a serious debate about immigration levels can and should occur. But with organizations such as FAIR making the major push for change in Arizona, it's questionable whether such a debate could take place without descending into immigrant-bashing.

FAIR's Rick Oltman in particular sees Arizona as promising opportunity. "Look at all the bullshit [attorney] Steve Montoya is stirring up about all the arrests in Chandler. Every charge he has made has been unsubstantiated to this point. . . . He's got people involved in his lawsuit [a $35 million suit against the City of Chandler] who weren't even there," Oltman charges, apparently unaware of Attorney General Grant Woods' findings.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega