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Updated Apr 23, 2013 - 8:07 am

The story behind the Real Arizona Coalition

We are native Arizonans. We have always been proud of our rich heritage and our contributions to the community. Lisa Urias is Mexican-American and Denise D. Resnik is Jewish. But it seems this "Real Arizona" that we have always known and loved became lost in a whirlwind of vitriol immediately after Senate Bill 1070 was signed into law in 2010.

While there are strong and varying opinions on the law, the world defi ned it for us with more than six million mostly negative media hits. Arizona was boycotted by some of the nation's largest civil rights groups including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Asian American Justice Center and NCLR National Council of La Raza. And the immediate economic impact was devastating with cancelled convention and tourism contracts and many lost leads on new potential businesses interested in coming to Arizona. Its impact is still being felt today.

There is no sloganeering or branding our way out of the storm that took place. As marketing and public relations professionals, we agreed that the only way to repair the damage to Arizona's brand was through leadership. Arizona needed to express its diverse leadership, respectful of divergent views and positions. Arizona also needed facts and recognition that a lack of federal action prompted state leaders to take matters into their own hands.

Our vision was to fi nd a way to rightly position the state to the outside world as one that is truly welcoming, diverse, smart and accepting and - in essence, "the real Arizona we all know and love." Many Arizona leaders were at a loss for a response that would abate the maelstrom that rocked our state. We all understood we needed to fi nd some way to demonstrate to the world that Arizona was far more than what was being portrayed in the media.

We built a bi-partisan coalition consisting of about 50 member organizations including Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, chambers, convention and visitors bureaus, major corporations, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and faith-based and community organizations representing thousands of Arizonans, who today, all agree to a fundamental platform around federal immigration reform.

Our goals were simple. First, we wanted to stop state-led immigration enforcement-only laws that were not productive for our economy or our communities. Second, we wanted to encourage Congress and the White House to enact much needed federal immigration reform. Within these goals, we sought to fi nd common values to unite us in purposeful action. We encouraged our own U.S. senators to lead on federal immigration reform and encouraged our citizenry to engage in supporting the platform that developed.

In late 2010 and throughout 2011, we did our best to educate and empower people with trustworthy information. We co-sponsored fi ve immigration solutions conferences across our state that included policy experts, scholars and elected offi cials; participated in dozens of news stories and columns; connected Arizonans with fact-based articles and reports; co-sponsored a series of Latino Jewish dialogues; and so much more in an effort to get beyond the rhetoric on both sides of the debate.

In early 2012, we teamed up with The O'Connor House and cosponsored a series of civil discourse sessions. We broadened the participation to include The Real Arizona Coalition members, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, policy makers, multi-cultural groups, interfaith organizations, business leadership, law enforcement, farmers, DREAMERs and many others. We met privately to promote candor and negotiations. And we worked closely with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to promote civil discourse as leaders around the table agreed, disagreed and found a path forward.

The resulting achievement is a broad consensus called Arizona's S.A.N.E. solution to federal immigration reform. It is a platform based principally on respecting and acknowledging the contributions of the approximate 11 million immigrants here now without lawful authority, an understanding that many businesses and industries presently rely on this existing undocumented immigrant labor force, and the recognition that the continued success and competitiveness of our nation requires a rational and pragmatic immigration policy going forward. It is about our security, economy and humanity.

Since nearly three years ago when we began this effort, much has been achieved. The boycotts have been lifted. Our economy is on the mend. Our state legislature is more focused on job creation, health care and education. And most importantly, we have a bi-partisan group of eight U.S. senators advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, with Arizona's U.S. Senators McCain and Flake fully engaged.

Yes, we have come quite far in a short time, and have much to be proud of. Yet we cannot allow this present opportunity - to create a workable immigration system - slip through our collective fi ngers. We cannot allow federal leadership to fail, and for the 50 states of this great nation be left, once again, fending for themselves to address the myriad and complex issues resulting from a broken immigration system.

Congress must act now to create comprehensive, viable immigration system to support our 21st century economy and we must fi nd ways to bring together our colleagues, friends and families to understand the facts, and respectfully discuss and debate the issues. We all recognize that leadership, by defi nition, requires compromise. And while no interest group or stakeholder will get exactly what he or she wants, if everyone works together in a bipartisan fashion, the fi nal legislation will result in a better nation and better Arizona for us all.

We hope this special Business Journal supplement helps you learn about the issues, the importance of civil discourse and the history in the making as Arizonans seize this opportunity to make an indelible contribution to the passage of federal comprehensive immigration reform.

About the Authors:

Denise D. Resnik, co-founder of The Real Arizona Coalition, is a native Arizonan and a mother of two. Denise co-founded the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). In addition, she is the President of DRA Strategic Communications in Phoenix.

Lisa Urias, co-founder of The Real Arizona Coalition, is a Latina, fourth-generation Arizonan and mother of two. She is President of Urias Communications in Scottsdale.

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