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Border Roundup: SB 1070 debate not cooling off

A look at border news around the country

In the last few days the SB 1070 debate has continued to evolve, including possible federal lawsuit against the controversial law. In addition, there were shootings on the Arizona/Sonora border and members of the Texas Legislature are proposing the use of microwave weaponry to fight drug smugglers.

Update on SB 1070 debate

The New York Times reported that the federal government is going to file a lawsuit against SB 1070:

"The lawsuit, though widely anticipated, was confirmed by an unexpected source: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who answered a question about it from an Ecuadorean TV journalist in an interview on June 8 that went all but unnoticed until this week. Noting that President Obama had publicly objected to the law, Mrs. Clinton said, “The Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act.”

A spokesman for the Justice Department said the matter was still under review, but other senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had indeed been made and only the details of the legal filing were still being worked out."

The debate over SB 1070 has officially crossed the border into Mexico.  The Mexican government filed an amicus curiae brief against the law in U.S. District Court, reported TucsonSentinel.com:  

The brief asks the court to declare SB 1070 "unconstitutional in its entirety." The filing is the Mexican government's first official foray into the debate over the law, although President Felipe Calderon called SB 1070 a "terrible idea" while addressing a joint session of Congress.

The brief says SB 1070 raises issues "of great importance to the people of Mexico, including the almost twenty million Mexican workers, tourists and students lawfully admitted to the United States throughout 2009, those already present or who will similarly be admitted to the U.S in the future, and the countless millions affected by international trade, immigration policies and drug violence."

The Arizona Republic reported that the passing of SB 1070 has become a rallying point for activists in Arizona:

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Although the largest rallies already took place late May, critics and backers of the law alike are continuing to hold smaller-scale rallies, some participating in "buycotts" aiming to offset the effects of national boycotts against Arizona.

Participants acknowledged that the "buycotts" may have only a limited economic impact on Arizona:

"I don't think the state can balance their budget on what we spend. But I think symbolically, it bolsters people's morale," said Michael Berry, a Houston radio host and an organizer of the God Bless Arizona Tour, a caravan group that plans to hold a "buycott" in Arizona during the July Fourth weekend. "And I think that more than anything else, it leads other people to spend dollars."

Public officials are also getting involved in the SB 1070 debate.  The Arizona Republic reported that Adolfo Gámez, the mayor of Tolleson, Ariz., said that the city is joining a lawsuit against SB 1070:

"We just feel that racial profiling may occur," Gámez said. "We feel that it's an unfunded mandate, passing a law and asking cities to have additional training for our police officers when it comes to enforcing immigration laws, which shouldn't be our job."

For Gámez, the law hits pretty close to home:

"For that matter, I can be stopped," he said. "The chief of police can be stopped, because we might fit the profile of an illegal alien, whatever the hell that is. Why should we be subjected to that?"

Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Gov. Brewer, said the Tolleson City Council is acting on "false information."

"The law is very specific and clear. In fact, it's redundant," Senseman said, saying racial profiling is illegal. "This misinformation that has been repeated by some national leaders has obviously permeated Tolleson. Hopefully, with those facts that are very clear in the bill, they (council members) would be more comfortable with not only not joining the lawsuit, but with supporting the legislation."

Supporters of SB 1070 have "inundated" state Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of the bill, with signatures, reported the Arizona Republic:

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State Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, received a stack of 126,101 petition signatures Friday from across the country in support of Senate Bill 1070. The petition states that signers support the bill, which Pearce sponsored, and other lawful means of securing the border. The petition also objects to "efforts to frame the immigration issue in terms of 'race' and 'hate' as a way to score political points and advance an amnesty agenda.

The effects of SB 1070 are also being felt in Major League Baseball, reported the Arizona Republic:

The Arizona Rookie League starts Monday, with some 150 or so prospects from Latin America taking part. Unless a court decides otherwise, the state's much-debated immigration law will take effect on July 29. The season ends a month later.

The Cleveland Indians have taken extra precautions to be sure their young Latin players aren't caught unaware and unprepared. "We held a seminar under the direction of our cultural development director, Lino Diaz," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' player development director. "We brought in a local police officer to explain the situation and issued each player an ID card so they don't have to rely on carrying around their visas and paperwork with them."

There were developments in Arizona's government as well. Attorney General Terry Goddard announced he won't defend Arizona's new immigration law in court, blaming Gov. Jan Brewer for no cooperating with his office, reported TucsonSentinel.com:

Goddard sent a letter to Brewer on Friday, notifying Brewer that he will not represent the state in defense of the controversial immigration bills.

He based his decision on a June 14 letter from Brewer "that made clear her unwillingness to work cooperatively with the Attorney General's Office in defending the immigration bills," Goddard said in a press release.

The Arizona Republic reported that Goddard called the fight between Brewer and the attorney general "ridiculous":

In an interview with The Republic, Goddard blamed Brewer for the breaking apart of the legal team, saying she had made it impossible for his attorneys and her privately hired firm to mount a "cooperative defense." "I have to be respectful of how bad that would make Arizona look," he said Friday. "To have the two top officials fighting over who defends the statute, I think, is frankly ridiculous."

The legal brouhaha started about a month ago, when the Governor's Office announced that Brewer, who is named as a defendant in four of the five pending legal cases, would be represented by Snell & Wilmer Chairman John Bouma. Goddard, who is named as a defendant in two of the suits, said at the time that he would still defend the law in court, but he had declined to represent Brewer personally because there was a possibility the two of them would have "divergent opinions" on the best defense.

Nebraska may be following in the footsteps of Arizona with regard to immigration laws, reported the Republic:

A man who helped write Arizona's new immigration law, Kris Kobach, is helping to fight for the ordinance in Fremont, which has seen its Hispanic population surge in the past two decades. That increase is largely because Hispanics were recruited to work for the Fremont Beef and Hormel plants, and the city maintains an enviably low unemployment rate.

Instead of targeting illegal immigrants through contact with law enforcement, as is the case in Arizona, the bill in Nebraska focuses on housing for illegal immigrants:

If approved, the measure will require potential renters to apply for a license to rent. The application process will force Fremont officials to check whether the renters are in the country legally.

National immigration news

Although it may seem that all border news revolves around the U.S./Mexico border, our neighbors to the north are now embroiled in the same kind of issues, reported the Arizona Daily Star:

After the release of a scathing public inquiry report, the British Columbia government said Friday it will immediately appoint a special prosecutor to review the possibility of criminal charges against four police officers who used a stun gun on a Polish immigrant who died. 

Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport after being shocked five times with a Taser stun gun by police in 2007 in an incident that was widely seen around the world after the release of a witness' amateur video. Prosecutors had ruled out charges against the four officers last year, saying their actions were justified under the circumstances. But British Columbia Attorney General Mike de Jong said the matter should be reviewed following the inquiry report released Friday that concluded that the officers were not justified in using their Taser, and that their explanations of the events that unfolded the night Dziekanski died were "patently unbelievable."

The Los Angeles Times reported that Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor of California, is intensifying her courtship of the Latino vote:

Meg Whitman has launched her first Spanish-language ads in her bid for governor. But can the Republican gubernatorial nominee successfully court the Latino vote?

One of the ads highlights Whitman's opposition to a controversial Arizona law that compels police to check the immigration status of those stopped on suspicion of a crime. It also says Whitman opposed Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot measure that would have denied taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants. The other focuses on jobs and the economy.

The Latino vote may well determine the outcome of the gubernatorial race in California:

"Unless she gets over one-third of the Latino vote, I don't care how much she spends, she's not going to win," said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant who publishes the California Target Book. "She was pushed further to the right on that issue than she wanted to go, but the one key thing she remained steadfast on, even though she whispered it during the primary, was that she opposed the Arizona law."

A TucsonSentinel.com "Smart v. Stupid" column criticized Whitman's big-budget approach to the race:

I don’t think they auction jobs on Ebay, but if they did, it might look a lot like the California governor’s race. Former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman is bidding up the contest using record amounts of her own money. Whitman has already invested $91 million of her personal fortune. Chris Cilizza thinks she’ll spend as much as $150 million before it is over. She stands a pretty good chance of buying the governorship because she’s willing to pay whatever it takes. In the primary, she spent $80 per vote.

Immigration agents arrested a man in Manhattan after his wife sent a letter to President Obama asking him to help her husband get legal status in the United States, reported the New York Times:

He said that after asking questioning him about the letter, they told him, “We’re ICE and we’re here to arrest you because President Obama sent the letter for a review, and we reviewed it and we denied it.” He was soon in shackles, on his way to the Hudson County Correctional Center in New Jersey, where he spent two weeks in a dormitory with 47 other men, mostly criminal offenders.

The editorial board of the Times publicly denounced a new initiative in Arizona to deny citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants:

Not satisfied with a shameful new law that invites, indeed demands, racial profiling, some Arizona politicians are now pushing for a law that would deny citizenship to babies born in Arizona whose parents cannot prove they are legal immigrants. The 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” It could not be clearer.

The editorial board cited the unexpected success of SB 1070 in the Arizona Legislature as the impetus for their objection:

When State Senator Russell Pearce first started pushing for a law that requires police forces to stop and check anyone who appears to be an illegal immigrant, he was dismissed as a crackpot. The legislation passed both houses of the Republican-controlled Legislature with distressingly large majorities. Gov. Jan Brewer then proudly signed it into law. Now Mr. Pearce is at it again with this new proposal, meant to end what he calls the “inadvertent and unforeseen” consequences of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause. He pins it all on the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” arguing that the babies of illegal immigrants — like the children of foreign diplomats — do not have full allegiance to this country, and thus do not deserve automatic citizenship. It is a spurious argument.

News from the Arizona/Sonora border:

No other law-enforcement agencies in Arizona have followed Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's example in conducting "immigration sweeps," the Arizona Republic reported. The report says that such sweeps may not be effective in stopping major crimes.

The sweeps did result in some felony arrests of legal residents on charges including assault on a police officer, aggravated assault, trafficking in stolen goods and aggravated driving under the influence. The majority of legal residents arrested in the operations were booked on suspicion of driving with suspended licenses or on outstanding warrants.

Sheriff Arpaio defended the immigration sweeps:

"I think it's successful when you arrest 111 people," Arpaio said, referring to arrests in an operation three months ago. "Is it successful to send hundreds of cops out every holiday to do DUIs? Why do we always pinpoint illegal immigration when we have other task forces? I'm the bad guy when we arrest illegal immigrants and other criminal activity."

The sweeps themselves changed last year:

"In October, the federal government severed the agreement with Arpaio's office that authorized deputies to act as immigration agents. The sweeps then changed from operations in neighborhoods to efforts largely concentrated on businesses, highways and rural roads in the county, where deputies could arrest suspects on identity-theft and fraud charges or using the state's human-smuggling law.'

However, Maricopa County deputies recently changed back to their former practices:

But in April, Arpaio's deputies returned to the familiar routine of concentrating on a particular part of town, this time west Phoenix. Records for that April raid show 29 of the 93 arrested were legal residents. Ten of those legal residents were fugitives arrested by the sheriff's warrant unit as the operation began.

The Nogales International reported that tensions between local police and drug cartels are rising along the Arizona/Sonora border:

A Mexican drug cartel has threatened Nogales police officers, saying they will be targeted for retribution if they conduct off-duty drug busts. Nogales Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkham told the Nogales International on Friday that the threats stemmed from an incident approximately two weeks ago, when off-duty officers surprised marijuana smugglers while riding horseback in an unincorporated border area east of town. The officers seized part of the drug load, and the smugglers were able to flee back into Mexico with the other part.

“This has nothing to do with SB 1070 or illegal immigration,” he said, “it has to do with narco-trafficking and the violence of the cartels.”

The police chief of Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) and his bodyguard were ambushed Saturday night, reported TucsonSentinel.com:

Erick Landagaray Macias and his bodyguard, Luis Huerta Ibarra, were ambushed around 11 p.m. while patrolling the resort town, also known as Rocky Point.

Landagaray was shot six times, reportedly with a AK-47. Ibarra was wounded seven times.

***

No arrests have been reported in the shooting, and Mexican authorities have not commented on a motive. In Mexico, attacks on police are usually linked to drug cartels.

Closer to the border, Border Patrol agents in Nogales traded gunfire with rock-throwers, reported the Nogales International:

Border Patrol agents fired on suspected drug smugglers in Nogales on Thursday after they were reportedly assaulted with rocks, but officials say they haven't confirmed any injuries.

The incident was reminiscent of recent shootings along the international border: 

The incident marks at least the third time this month that Border Patrol agents have fired on alleged rock-throwers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

On June 7, a Border Patrol agent in El Paso, Texas fatally shot a 15-year-old Mexican boy who allegedly threw rocks at him, raising the ire of the Mexican government, which called the shooting excessive. Two days earlier, agents shot and injured two suspected smugglers about 40 miles west of Nogales after the men reportedly assaulted them with rocks.

A truck containing ammunition headed for Mexico was stopped in Nogales, reported the Nogales International:

A Nogales, Sonora man was arrested this week after he allegedly tried to sneak nearly 6,500 rounds of high-caliber ammunition into Mexico through Nogales, Ariz. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a news release that officers conducting southbound searches at the Mariposa Port of Entry stopped the 36-year-old suspect as he attempted to drive a tractor-trailer into Sonora on Tuesday. During an inspection of the truck, the officers reportedly discovered two duffle bags packed with the ammunition, 20 AK-47 assault rifle magazines and an AK-47 high capacity magazine-drum.

Illegal immigrants face more than deportation when they cross into Arizona from Sonora, reported the Nogales International:

"Shooters who have been targeting undocumented migrants continue to elude law-enforcement officers in Santa Cruz County, with recent incidents clustering around the Peck Canyon area in Rio Rico. According to records kept by the Nogales International, over 50 incidents of borderland robberies and/or assaults have been reported to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office since April 10, 2008. During these incidents, nearly a dozen people have been shot and at least three have been killed. Their assailants have been described as men carrying semi-automatic weapons and wearing black and/or camouflage who lie in ambush on the U.S. side of the border. The most recent incident was June 11 when five illegal border-crossers were ambushed by two camouflage-clad gunmen near the dead end of Peck Canyon Drive in Rio Rico. One of the men, Manuel Esquer Gomez, 45, was shot in the arm as the group fled. Sheriff’s deputies also located the remains of a Mexican man near the site of the shooting, and those remains are now being examined for signs of foul play."

Although several border shooting incidents have been reported recently, the New York Times reported that violent crime as a whole is down at the Arizona/Sonora border:

"But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. While thousands have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars, raising anxiety that the violence will spread to the United States, F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe."

These seemingly contradictory reports are used by people on both sides of the immigration debate to justify their positions:

Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said that what social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

But the rate for property crime, the kind that people may experience most often, increased in the state, to 4,082 per 100,000 residents in 2008 from 3,682 in 2000. Preliminary data for 2009 suggests that this rate may also be falling in the state’s biggest cities.

For instance, statistics show that even as Arizona’s population swelled, buoyed in part by illegal immigrants funneling across the border, violent crime rates declined, to 447 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2008, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available from the F.B.I. In 2000, the rate was 532 incidents per 100,000.

More Texas counties can now compare the fingerprints of prison inmates with those in a Department of Homeland Security database to determine their immigration status, a practice which has led to thousands of deportations, a Texas Tribune report posted on TucsonSentinel.com said.

Mention immigration in Texas and hardliners will grouse about a federal “open door” policy that results in a porous border, welcoming freeloaders and criminals. But dozens of Texas counties eagerly participate in a federal program called Secure Communities, which aims to ferret out criminal aliens and expedite their removal from the U.S. Twelve more counties in South Texas joined the program last week, bringing the total to 66 in less than two years since the program’s inception here. Run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the program allows local law enforcement to compare the fingerprints of anyone arrested against those in a Department of Homeland Security database to determine if the individual is removable under immigration laws.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement categorizes offenders according to the level of crime they committed:

In a policy statement on the program, ICE maintains that it prioritizes serious criminals: “By assessing the risk each criminal alien poses to the public, ICE focuses immigration enforcement on the most dangerous criminal aliens first.” The most “dangerous criminal aliens” are categorized as level 1 offenders and have been convicted of or charged with homicide, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sex offenses and narcotics crimes that carry a sentence of greater than one year. Level 2 offenses include property crimes and minor drug violations. Level 3 offenses include driving while intoxicated and public disturbances.

Since Texas joined the program in October 2008, it has submitted 494,445 sets of fingerprints to DHS for tracing, leading to 10,837 aliens being arrested or booked into ICE custody. According to the most recent ICE statistics, 8,596 have been deported. Of those, just 2,113 — fewer than 25 percent — were convicted of level 1 offenses, compared to 5,147, or 60 percent, who were convicted or charged with level 2 offenses.

The numbers prove ICE strays from its mission to home in on immigrants who pose the highest danger, says Lauren Martin, a scholar in residence with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based advocacy and research group.

“Should citizen children lose parents over infractions that are this minor?” she asked. “I think a lot of people are pointing out that just deporting people for minor offenses flies in the face of the principle of proportionality that is supposed to govern the criminal justice system."

A new weapon in border security is being considered by the Texas Legislature, reported El Universal:

Legislators of both the Democratic and Republican parties of Texas will request that President Barack Obama consider the use of a new microwave weapon to stop the vehicles of drug traffickers. This technology burns electronic circuits and disarms suspects by provoking the sensation of heat on the skin, which would contribute to stopping the violence on the Mexico-United States border.

Curtis Prendergast also writes for The Sonoran Chronicle.

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The border fence in Nogales, 2004.

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