A Customs and Border Patrol agent patrols along the international border in Nogales, Ariz. Thursday, April 22, 2010. Illegal immigration and border security are heating up as issues after the slaying of a border-area rancher and imminent passage of state legislation to crack down on illegal immigration. (AP Photo/Matt York)
by Paul Davenport And Jonathan J. Cooper
PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer again called for more troops along the state’s border with Mexico on Thursday, two days before a deadline for her to approve or strike down the nation’s toughest legislation on illegal immigration.
The Republican governor ordered a reallocation of state National Guard and law enforcement resources and called on the federal government to deploy National Guard troops as hundreds of Hispanics protested the bill at the State Capitol complex.
“The responsibility to ensure that we have an orderly, secure border — not just some imaginary line or a rickety fence — belongs to the federal government, and they have failed,” Brewer said, adding that she has asked five times for President Barack Obama to deploy troops.
Part of the plan requires approval from the federal government, including funding for an additional 250 National Guard troops to support anti-drug measures on the border. Brewer said the price tag is too high for the cash-strapped state to cover.
Brewer’s border security plan follows others released by Arizona politicians over the past two weeks in the wake of the death last month of a rancher on his property in southeastern Arizona. Authorities believe he was killed by an illegal border crosser.
The death came weeks before the state’s GOP-led Legislature passed the sweeping illegal immigration bill that would, among other provisions, require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally. It also would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to not have alien registration documents and for residents to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.
Brewer declined Thursday evening to say what she’d do with the bill but told a dinner meeting of an Hispanic group that she heard and understood concerns about the bill, which the group’s chairwoman had condemned minutes earlier as “a hateful piece of legislation.”
“I can tell you that what I decide will be based on what’s right for Arizona,” Brewer said.
Members of the audience attending the Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. dinner called out “veto” as Brewer left the hotel ballroom.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon spoke after Brewer, calling for a veto and saying the bill was giving Arizona a black eye.
Earlier, Phoenix high school students ditched class Thursday to demand that she veto the crackdown. Protesters came from as far away as Los Angeles.
“This is not a Latino fight. This a fight against hate,” said Daniel Rodriguez, an Arizona State University graduate from Phoenix, who spoke at the protest.
High school sophomore Citlalli Reyes said she feared police would engage in racial profiling if the bill becomes law.
“They’re trying too hard to get rid of us,” the 16-year-old Phoenix resident said.
Supporters of the law deny it will spur racial profiling. They contend its provisions will help drive illegal immigrants from the state, allowing the taxpayers to save money on services and reducing crime.
Arizona, which has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the nation’s busiest border crossing point, has previously passed a variety of get-tough measures dealing with illegal immigration.
New attention was focused on the issues of illegal immigration and border security by the March 27 shooting death of Douglas-area rancher Rob Krentz.
Brewer, who faces a contested Aug. 24 Republican primary, is among numerous officeholders and candidates who have toured the border since Krentz’s death. One of Brewer’s primary election opponents, State Treasurer Dean Martin, called on her to sign the legislation.
“This bill was introduced many months ago, any additional delay is unacceptable. Failure to act exposes Arizona law enforcement officers, citizens, and their property to further harm,” Martin said.
Christian and Jewish clergy called on Brewer to veto the bill, saying its implementation would create distrust between residents and the police.
Day laborers “are not criminals,” said the Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. “These are human beings who want to provide for their families and contribute to our society.”