Phoenix City Council Votes for Immigration Reform

Daria Ovide

Major city supports federal bill in advance of full Senate deliberations; efforts of Latino voters credited.

PHOENIX – Over 100 hospitality workers, students, and immigration reform activists with the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE witnessed a historic vote Tuesday when the Phoenix City Council voted 6 to 1 to support a federal immigration reform bill that will be heard by the Senate next week.

The resolution, on the agenda in the Council’s regular policy session, recommended support of S.744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Councilman Jim Waring was the sole vote against the resolution. Council members Sal DiCiccio and Tom Simplot were not present for the vote.

After the vote, City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela addressed a crowd who supported the resolution, saying, “Today your city took an official stand on immigration reform. You can thank Mayor Stanton and the members of the city council, but you should also look around. You’re really here because of the person to the right and to the left of you.” Valenzuela won his seat in 2011, when Latino voters in his district increased their turnout nearly 500%.

Arizona’s hospitality workers have been especially active for reform because they say that Arizona’s previous attempts to address immigration on its own—like the controversial SB 1070—led to boycotts of the state that drove down tourism and hurt their families economically.

Hospitality workers in Arizona have joined dozens of other pro-immigrant community groups and labor organizations in uniting calls for reform with immigrant workers’ campaigns for rights on the job. On May 1, this new alliance staged a massive reform march downtown that also called attention to claims of unfair treatment of immigrant employees at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix.

Margarita Hernandez, 61, is a banquet server at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix who is originally from Mexico. She testified to City Council through an interpreter that she wanted their support for immigration reform because “at work, I don’t only struggle to support my family. I also have to struggle to win the respect that I deserve as a human being and to keep my position because I don’t feel like I have security in my job at the Hyatt.”

Organizers predict this support from the City of Phoenix—the nation’s sixth-largest city and a center of immigration controversy—will help spur lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass an immigration bill this year.

Congress likely is acting on immigration reform now thanks in part to higher participation and turnout among Latino voters in the 2012 elections. Last year, the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE funded a campaign that submitted nearly 35,000 voter registration applications from Phoenix-area Latinos.

The Phoenix vote is one more demonstration of the increasing statewide and national political importance of Latino voters, for whom immigration reform is considered a high priority.

“Could you have imagined a vote like this before we started turning out the Latino vote?” Councilman Valenzuela said. “Well, the Latino vote is here.”

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