Arizona’s controversial new anti-illegal immigrant law found little love at a candidates’ forum in Paso Robles, although all six candidates for state office said illegal immigration is a problem that needs fixing.
“Absolutely not,” Santa Maria City Councilwoman Hilda Zacarias said when asked if California should use the Arizona law as a model.
Zacarias, a Democrat, is running for the state Assembly in the 33rd District in the Nov. 2 general election. She is opposed by San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, who is a Republican, and Libertarian Paul Polson.
Achadjian and Zacarias were among eight candidates for three elective offices at the forum, held Friday night and sponsored by Vision Unida and the Latino Outreach Council. Carina Corral of KSBY-TV moderated.
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Also on hand were candidates for the 15th District state Senate seat special election that will be decided Tuesday. Senate candidates are Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, Democrat John Laird, Independent Jim Fitzgerald and Libertarian Mark Hinkle.
County sheriff candidates Joe Cortez and Ian Parkinson also answered questions.
Illegal immigration was only one of numerous topics covered in the more than two hour presentation to a standing-room-only crowd. But the Arizona law has fostered a national debate among those who blame illegal immigrants for the poor economy and crime, and the question drew spirited responses.
Critics say the Arizona law, which is being challenged in the courts, gives law enforcement too much leeway to stop people on the basis of their appearance, without the probable-cause protections provided to citizens in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Zacarias, a fifth-generation American, said the United States has had freedom of movement as a principle since its inception. She said the nation needs to strengthen border security and deport criminals, but the Arizona law is not the answer.
She also criticized attempts to repeal another constitutional amendment, the 14th, which says anyone born in this country is a citizen. Some U.S. political movements say the amendment allows pregnant women to enter the country illegally and have children, who would then be citizens by birth.
“Don’t punish children for the acts of their parents,” Zacarias said.
Achadjian, a naturalized citizen, is Armenian-American and swarthy. “With my looks,” he joked, “I don’t think I’ll be visiting Arizona anytime soon.”
Nonetheless, Achadjian said, when he came to the United States, he obeyed the laws, put himself through college and became a successful businessman, providing a good life for his family.
“If you choose to come here, you should obey the laws,” Achadjian said.
Like Achadjian and Zacarias, most of the Senate candidates said the federal government must deal with illegal immigration.
Laird said “the federal government has failed miserably, and they should step up.” He decried the notion of stopping people for how they look, especially in California, whose population is 56 percent nonwhite.
Blakeslee opposes the Arizona law, but said he is “troubled” by the sentiment that California as a state does not have its own role to play. He said the state government should crack down on “sanctuary cities” that give refuge to illegal immigrants, and go after employers who hire them.
On other issues:
• Laird and Zacarias supported Proposition 25, which calls for the state budget to be adopted by a majority of the Legislature, rather than the current two-thirds. It would still take a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. The proposition would also withhold legislators’ pay if they do not pass a budget by June 15.
• Fitzgerald said he wants to close a “loophole” in Proposition 13, which he said was designed to keep homeowners from being forced by property taxes to move out but has been used by large corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
• Blakeslee disagreed with proposals that would raise taxes on individuals or corporations, and said California has the highest corporate tax rate west of the Mississippi. Achadjian said to leave Proposition 13 alone, while Zacarias and Laird said this is not the time to tinker with something voters clearly like.
• Laird and Zacarias reiterated their opposition to Proposition 8, the measure that outlawed gay marriage and was overturned in federal court. Blakeslee and Achadjian said they believe in traditional marriage, which Achadjian defined as “between a man and a woman.” Zacarias, in a line that drew applause, replied that “love is traditional; commitment is traditional,” regardless of an individual’s sexual orientation.
• Fitzgerald, Laird and Zacarias reiterated their call for an oil-extraction fee, the proceeds of which would go to schools. Laird, who has made education an issue, said school funding has already been cut enough, $17 billion in 18 months at the state level.
• Blakeslee said more money should go to schools, but schools should spend what they have more wisely.