Hispanic activists want governor to veto 'divisive' bill
Capitol Media Services
April 28, 2008

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By Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/236357

PHOENIX Hispanic activists are urging Gov. Janet Napolitano to veto legislation mandating that local police and sheriff's departments deal with violations of federal immigration laws.

In a letter to the governor, members of Somos America said such a requirement will only increase racial profiling.

They also called it "a divisive bill" that polarizes the state between "the pro-immigrant reformers and the anti-immigrant groups infiltrated by hate organizations like the neo-Nazis and KKK." Napolitano has through the end of the day today to decide whether to sign or veto it.

But Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said the governor should sign it. He said the legislation is nowhere near as onerous as foes believe. And he said it is far preferable to a ballot measure being pushed by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to give police officers an active role in catching illegal immigrants.

None of that stopped members of the organization, whose name translates to "We Are America," from criticism of lawmakers particularly Hispanics like Prezelski for supporting the measure.

The Rev. Luz Santiago, pastor of Iglesia Puebla de Dios in Mesa, said lawmakers need to be reminded "we're the ones that can vote you out."

The legislation requires city and county law enforcement agencies to have a program to deal with violations of federal immigration laws.

But its wording gives agencies a menu of options.

The one that upsets Somos America members involves having officers get special federal training to allow them to enforce federal immigration laws.

That's the kind of certification Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has obtained for some of his deputies.

Those deputies have been involved in "sweeps" of some neighborhoods, looking for people committing such minor violations as traffic offenses so they can be stopped and questioned about their presence in this country.

Lydia Guzman, vice president of the organization, said there should be an investigation of that agreement to determine whether the activities violate the civil rights of the people they stop.

The legislation also allows agencies to comply by embedding federal immigration officers within their agencies.

Or they can simply establish those "operational relationships" with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"The bill does very little," Prezelski said.

Other supporters, including Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma, said the measure has merit because it encourages relationships between local and federal agencies. She said the experience in her county proves those relationships are valuable.

"That communication has been strategic in finding when there are illegal immigrants who are criminals," she said, which has reduced gang activity, trafficking in narcotics "and finding some really bad people out there."

But the real key, said Prezel-ski, is approval of this measure might undermine efforts by some legislators to get voters to pass the far more comprehensive measure being pushed by Pearce, one that would actually empower all local police officers to arrest anyone in this country illegally.

None of that convinced Guzman. "We know that there was some negotiation that was done," she said of the concept of supporting HB 2807 as an alternative to the trespass measure.

"We're very saddened to see that some of the legislators did not take the time to ask the community how this would affect the real lives of human beings," Guzman continued.

"They're taking it upon themselves to make these decisions that are affecting our communities," added Luz Santiago.

The Pearce measure would expand state laws against trespass to include anyone who is in this country legally, whether on public or private property, giving all police officers the power to arrest them.

Both bills contain identical provisions blocking cities from enacting policies that prohibit public employees from sending information to or receiving information from federal agencies about whether someone is an illegal immigrant.

That would include not just people picked up by police, but those applying for licenses and benefits restricted to legal U.S. residents.

House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said he believes the bill does not require police to do anything they don't want to do. "It gives them the option," he said.

Lopes said, though, his decision to support the measure was political. "I voted for this because I got a lot of constituent pushing," he said.