On immigration, Ducey accused of pandering, not delivering

Doug Ducey

Doug Ducey

PHOENIX - When Gov. Doug Ducey was stuck in a six-way Republican primary one year ago, he promised to "fight back with every resource at my command" to secure the state's border with Mexico.

"Fencing, satellites, guardsmen, more police and prosecutors," Ducey said in a campaign ad. "We'll get this done. If Barack Obama won't do the job, Arizonans will."

Six months into his term, Ducey has taken a decidedly different approach to immigration, fulfilling just a fraction of the promises he made to boost security. He has punted key legal decisions on driver's licenses and in-state tuition for immigrants. And he has largely avoided the man who provided him a crucial immigration-related endorsement during the primary: Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Critics say Ducey was pandering during a Republican primary at a time when immigration fervor was running high amid a surge of migrant Central American families and children into the U.S. The resurgence of immigration forced candidates to the right on an issue that has long been ripe in GOP primaries in Arizona.

Ducey recently wrapped up a trip to Mexico City where he promoted the state as a trading partner, and where talk of a hostile Arizona would have undercut his pro-business agenda. Questioned about the lack of action on what was a key primary issue for Republicans, Ducey said there's still time to boost security.

"We believe that a discussion around economic development, job creation, growth and economies can happen at the same time that you're focused on border security and critical issues to public safety, and we intend to do both in this administration," Ducey said after returning from the trip.

Ducey's office also noted that he has boosted funding for two border county sheriff's offices.

Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith finished second to Ducey in the Republican primary and tried to gain traction in the race by calling him out for what he labeled disingenuous positions on immigration.

"One candidate for governor says he'll fix illegal immigration by having our state use satellites," he said in an ad. "There's a word for promises like that. Bull."

In an interview, Smith said it was clear most of the GOP candidates were pandering, and it isn't surprising Ducey hasn't fulfilled his promises.

"I called bull and even did a tongue-in-cheek ad because everybody was pandering," Smith said. "And my comment was not so much at one person as much as it was at the whole process, because everyone knew they were pandering. But it obviously worked."

Since taking office, Ducey has repeatedly stressed that Arizona is a friendly place for businesses while avoiding the kind of immigration crackdowns that created a negative image of the state.

In an op-ed in The Arizona Republic on Saturday, Ducey implied that an improving Mexican economy will help secure the border.

"As the Mexican people reap the benefits of free-market reforms taking place in Mexico today, and the resulting economic growth, we can expect to see a positive impact on security - specifically, border security," he wrote.

Border security still looms as an issue, however. Presidential candidate Donald Trump's controversial comments about the border and immigrants from Mexico - combined with a random San Francisco killing by an immigrant who was supposed to have been deported - have revived the debate.

Arpaio's spokeswoman said the sheriff remains confident that Ducey is methodically working toward fulfilling his campaign promises on border issues.

Former Internet company executive Christine Jones made immigration a significant priority and released a detailed border security plan during the GOP primary. She stopped short of criticizing Ducey, but noted he has several promises to keep.

"He did put an ad on television and he did assure many audiences in my presence and the presence of other candidates that it was a priority for him too," Jones said. "But he's been busy working on getting the budget balanced and working on trade missions to foreign countries, and apparently that was slightly lower on his priority scale than it was for me."