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Border Roundup: Immigration bill published amidst protests

UnlinkImmigration bill

A draft of President Obama's immigration legislation appeared in The Miami Herald on Monday, raising the possibility of a "lawful prospective immigrant" visa and stirring reactions from both sides of the party line. Republicans say the plan shuts them out of the process while Democrats say it's part of a conversation. The intentions of the draft's release itself have also been debated, with the release being called a mistake, a backup and "decoy."

Politics and policy

Civil rights groups protested in Tucson against Operation Streamline, a federal program that fast tracks deportations and enables people caught crossing the border illegally to be tried in groups as large as 80 in some locations. Program defenders say that giving illegal border crossers a criminal record acts as a deterrent for repeat offenses and also discourages other people from trying in the first place. Protesters said the process is "“rubber-stamp process, a true masquerade of justice.” and also cite the high costs of the program which has operated in Tucson every weekday since it became the fourth location to adopt the program in 2008. Similar protests were scheduled to take place in Austin on Friday.

Spouses of people deported on immigration offenses, many of whom have children who are U.S. citizens or are U.S. citizens themselves, gave emotional testimony in front of lawmakers about the challenges and potential separations their families face because of their mixed immigration statuses.

Democratic lawmakers say SB 1070 is hurting Arizona and that Republicans who won't reconsider the effects are letting Arizonans and the state economy suffer. Two bills this session would have repealed the controversial 2010 legislation but "neither SB 1120, authored by Gallardo, nor HB 2651, authored by Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, were heard in committee." Gallardo, who attempted to run a similar bill the year before and says he'll continue his efforts, described SB 1070 as a "tragedy" and a "black cloud over the state of Arizona, and it continues to haunt many members within the Latino community." SB 1070 has faced lawsuits and legal challenges in federal courts since it was signed into law in 2010.

Stephen Lemons published documents obtained through a public records request to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office that show a partnership with Arizona-based attorneys for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement "to ensure the deportation of undocumented aliens who otherwise would benefit from President Obama's proposed comprehensive immigration reform." The detailed Powerpoint from a January 2012 training session is titled "Immigration Consequences of Common Arizona Convictions" and outlines "how to charge a defendant on a variety of offenses so as to ensure the accused's deportation after he or she is turned over to ICE" as well as ways to combat "possible 'litigation challenge' for each state charge, and how to get around it." Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery previously stated that "that his office is not concerned with the immigration consequences of the convictions his office obtains against illegal aliens."

Immigration reform includes more border security including technology and fencing, U.S. Sen. John McCain said at a Green Valley town hall meeting Tuesday. McCain also discussed how mandatory spending cuts that go into effect March 1 if Congress can't reach a budget agreement could affect Arizona by reducing defense spending - and other government programs - that the state relies on.

Law enforcement

More than 200 protesters rallied Monday around two men, a suspected illegal immigrant and an activist, arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents on Sunday afternoon. Rene Meza Huertha, 30, presented a Mexican ID card during a traffic stop that revealed he was driving on a suspended license and that children in his car were not in child safety seats. A Tucson Police Department spokesperson said the officers were following "the law as required by SB 1070" when they called immigration authorities and Huertha was taken into federal custody. Passerby and local immigration activist Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa attempted to intervene in the arrest when Border Patrol agents arrived and was also arrested. He was released Monday and faces charges of interfering with a federal officer.

A new group calling itself Citizens to Protect Fair Election Results said they'll go to court to stop efforts to recall Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio which they describe as unconstitutional and harassment. Recall organizers, who must collect more than 335,000 signatures from county voters by May 30, cite Arpaio's failure to "adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases in the county and put immigration enforcement above other law enforcement priorities" as their motive for the recall effort.

With undocumented immigration dropping in Texas - and meth seizures along the border rising - one border town, El Paso, speaks up about local perspectives on immigration reform.

Border Patrol reports that Nogales agents at the I-19 checkpoint arrested two female passengers, now facing federal prosecution, from a commercial shuttle van on Thursday after they discovered six bags of methamphetamine concealed in two buckets of chicken (nearly six pounds, estimated valued $58,700).

Across the border

Rumors are swirling about Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán after Guatemalan officials gave and then retracted a statement that Guzmán died in a shootout occurring in Peten, the territory of rival cartel Los Zetas. According to authorities, locals reported Guzmán was one of two killed in the class but that they have been unable to confirm the location, death toll or identities of anyone involved in the incident and cannot verify that it even occurred. In 2001 Guzmán escaped from imprisonment in Mexico on drug and murder charges from a 1993 arrest and has been dodging law enforcement ever since. Guzmán was recently named Chicago's Public Enemy #1, a title not held since Al Capone, by the Chicago Crime Commission and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Federal police apprehended 81 Central American immigrants and two trafficking suspects traveling without documents in Mexico's southern states, according to a government statement Tuesday. A cattle truck traveling without headlights in Oaxaca turned out to be carrying three women and 24 men. Two buses and a private vehicle stopped in Chiapas were carrying a total of 54 immigrants. The immigrants, presumably on the dangerous journey to the United States, included 48 Guatemalans, 28 Salvadorans and five Hondurans. Eight of them were minors.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa leads cheers and slogans during the protest, where nearly 200 arrived to vent their frustration at the deportation of thousands and the enforcement of Arizona's SB 1070.

Border Patrol Activity

As reported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection press releases:

Sunday, 17 Feb.

Yuma Sector agents using night vision equipment near Gila Bend spotted and apprehended six suspects carrying a total of 528 pounds of marijuana (estimated value $264,000) on Sunday evening. The suspects who turned out to be five Mexican nationals and one Honduran national.

Thursday, 21 Feb.

Customs and Border Protection’s Yuma Air Branch spotted suspects hiding bundles of marijuana in brush along the Colorado River near the U.S.-Mexico border about 5:30 Thursday evening. They notified Border Patrol agents who arrived on scene to seize the narcotics.

Nogales agents at the I-19 checkpoint arrested two female passengers, now facing federal prosecution, from a commercial shuttle van after they discovered six bags of methamphetamine concealed in two buckets of chicken (nearly six pounds, estimated valued $58,700).

Friday, 22 Feb.

Mexican federal police arrested a suspect discovered digging in an incomplete smuggling tunnel west of Nogales' DeConcini Port of Entry during a joint U.S.-Mexican border sweep on Friday morning. The eight foot tunnel did reach five feet across the border but did not open up on the U.S. side.