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Border Roundup: Obama weighs in on immigration reform

SB 1070 training program released, 21 die in Sonoran gunfight

Date set for SB 1070 hearing

Will SB 1070 ever actually take effect or will the courts strike it down before July 29? That question will be answered when the lawsuits against SB 1070 are heard by a federal judge on July 22, reported the Arizona Daily Star:

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton will consider a request by three civil-rights groups to put the law on hold while the issue of its legality is litigated. They argue the law unconstitutionally infringes on the exclusive right of the federal government to control immigration policy. The statute, set to take effect July 29 unless blocked, requires police who stop people for another reason to check their immigration status if they reasonably believe the person is in this country illegally, and permits police to charge illegal immigrants with violating state trespassing laws. Bolton will also consider arguments by Gov. Jan Brewer that the entire lawsuit should be thrown out because, her attorneys argue, "No part of SB 1070 addresses the admission, authorization or deportation of aliens from the United States."

Obama weighs in on immigration reform

President Obama blamed Republicans for stalling the process of immigration reform, echoing recent statements he has made with regard to financial reform and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reported the Los Angeles Times:

In his first major speech on the issue since taking office, President Obama said Thursday that the U.S. immigration system "offends our most basic American values" and blamed Republican opposition for thwarting crucially needed change.

It was the third time in as many days that Obama singled out Republicans as an obstructionist force, blaming them in his earlier appearances for defending oil giant BP in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast oil spill and for opposing stronger financial regulatory legislation.

The president's remarks this week represented the clearest preview yet of the message the White House intends to highlight in this year's midterm election: Republicans' stubborn refusal to help solve national problems.

Even as he blamed Republicans for their "stubborn refusal," Obama also called for bipartisan support for immigration reform, reported the New York Times:

In his first speech devoted entirely to immigration policy since taking office, Mr. Obama tried to navigate between what he called the two extremes of the debate, defending his efforts to strengthen border security while promoting a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people in the United States illegally.

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The president’s decision to elevate the issue reflected more of a political strategy than a legislative one since the White House has no plan to actually push a bill this year through a Congress already consumed by other issues. Instead, Mr. Obama’s focus appeared intended to frame the debate for the approaching election to appeal to Hispanic voters who could be critical in several states as well as other middle-class voters turned off by anti-immigrant discourse while blaming Republicans for opposing a comprehensive overhaul.

“I’m ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward,” he told an audience of lawmakers, advocates, business executives and labor leaders at American University here. “But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”

Obama's speech came just days after he asked Congress to approve $600 million in funding for increased border security. In light of this, civil rights groups convened in San Diego to discuss a more effective strategy, reported the Washington Post:

So, for the first time, civil rights campaigners, community workers and advocacy groups from across the 2,000-mile southwestern border gathered for two days to figure out where they had gone wrong and brainstorm a new battle plan. Last weekend, in the innocuous surroundings of a community center in San Diego, the soul-searching began.

"It was a summit, of sorts," said Andrea Guerrero, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego. "We had a strategy session for all of us to come together and think about how we can push back on the ideas" coming from Washington.

SB 1070 update

While the Obama administration announced its support of comprehensive immigration reform, and is likely to file a lawsuit challenging SB 1070 in the coming days, other groups publicly expressed their support of the law. A police union in Phoenix has come out in support of SB 1070 and wants to be a part of the legal defense of the law, reported the Arizona Daily Star:

A union representing 2,400 Phoenix police officers wants to become a defendant in a lawsuit challenging Arizona's new immigration enforcement law in order to defend it. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association on Thursday asked a federal judge for permission to intervene in the case.

Business groups in Arizona entered the immigration debate with a joint statement calling for action from the federal government, reported the Arizona Republic.

The groups, mostly chambers of commerce from the Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Yuma and Prescott areas, issued a group statement saying the failure of the federal government to fix the immigration system has created a "divisive and emotionally charged environment that is tearing at the fabric of Arizona's sense of community and threatening the essence of our historically diverse culture."

If SB 1070 is not blocked by the courts, police officers in Arizona will have to put the new law into practice at the end of the month. In order to train police officers on how to correctly enforce SB 1070, the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board released a 90-minute training video to explain proper procedure, reported TucsonSentinel.com.

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"Officers shall not consider race or color in determining reasonable suspicion that a person is unlawfully present in the United States. If an officer does not have reasonable suspicion without reliance on race or color, then reasonable suspicion does not exist," the training guidelines say.

Also on TucsonSentinel.com, the Tucson chief of police expressed his concerns about enforcing the new law at a press conference on Thursday.

Tucson police chief Roberto Villaseñor says Arizona's new SB 1070 will be a "drain on resources," and that he's "absolutely certain that we are going to be accused of racial profiling no matter what we do" under the new immigration law.As the national immigration debate expands, the effects of SB 1070 are being felt locally.

The Arizona Republic reported that illegal immigrants are leaving Arizona. Although some are headed to their country of origin, others are simply moving to other areas of the United States:

Fearing its implementation, many have already left Arizona. Others are waiting to see if the law survives legal challenges. If it does, many more may leave. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of the illegal immigrants leaving Arizona are not returning to Mexico or whichever country they are from. Instead, most are moving to other states.

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Besides the lack of jobs, other undocumented immigrants leaving Arizona said they do not feel safe returning to Mexico because of the drug violence. More than 22,000 people have been killed in Mexico by organized crime since President Felipe Calderón launched a major crackdown on cartels in 2006.

In response to SB 1070, the ACLU has issued a travel warning for Arizona, reported TucsonSentinel.com:

"In Arizona, SB 1070 has caused relations between community members and police to go from bad to worse," said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze in the release. "Two of the largest police departments in the state – DPS and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office – have had to defend against accusations of racial profiling in Court. On top of that, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for suspected civil rights violations."

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"California residents need to know their rights and the dangers of traveling to Arizona before setting foot there. This disturbing new law makes it much more likely that a police officer will demand a person deemed "foreign" to present "papers" for the smallest of infractions, as simple as a broken taillight or jaywalking," said Hector Villagra, legal director for the Southern California branch of the civil rights organization, in a news release.

Violence on the border

El Imparcial reported that 21 people died in a gunfight among drug cartels a few miles south of Sasabe, Sonora. Tensions in Ciudad Juarez/El Paso continued to rise as bullets hit El Paso City Hall, reported the El Paso Times:

Several gunshots apparently fired from Juárez hit El Paso City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. No one was hurt, but nerves were rattled at City Hall in what is thought to be the first cross-border gunfire during a drug war that has engulfed Juárez since 2008. El Paso police spokesman Darrel Petry said investigators do not think City Hall was intentionally targeted but rather was struck by stray shots. "It does appear the rounds may have come from an incident in Juárez," Petry said.

The Texas attorney general wrote a letter to President Obama about the incident. Below are excerpts from that letter, as reported by the El Paso Times:

Deadly violence from drug cartels and transnational gangs in Mexico is knocking on the United States' door with ever increasing frequency.Yesterday, gunfire from the cartels pierced that threshold and struck City Hall in El Paso. Fortunately no one was injured or killed. But that good fortune was not the result of effective border control - it was mere luck that the bullets struck buildings rather than bodies. Luck and good fortune are not effective border enforcement policies. The shocking reality of cross border gunfire proves the cold reality: American lives are at risk. As the attached news article notes: "More than 1,300 people have been murdered in Juárez this year as a war continues relentlessly between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels." Americans must be protected as this deadly war bulges at our border.

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This threat demands immediate and effective action by your Administration to secure our border. As the Attorney General of Texas, I urge you to make border security your top priority so that no more innocent lives are lost to border violence.

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Curtis Prendergast also writes for The Sonoran Chronicle.

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