Immigration debate rages at town-hall forum by Spanish-language broadcaster Univision

By Suzette Laboy, AP
Friday, May 14, 2010

Univision forum held on Arizona’s immigration law

MIAMI — Detractors and defenders of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration aired their views in a lively town-hall style meeting broadcast nationally Friday night by the Spanish-language network Univision.

The commercial-free forum held in Phoenix and Miami comes in the wake of Arizona’s new law some critics fear could lead to racial profiling.

The measure requires police to ask a person about his or her immigration status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. Being in the country illegally would be a state crime under the law.

Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio urged people to give the law a chance before passing judgment. The measure is set to go into effect July 29.

“This is just another law. I am not concerned about the hype, the threats, the racial profiling” accusations, Arpaio said. “We are talking about illegal immigration — that when you cross that border, you have broken the law.”

Experts on immigration law and public policy, representatives of national Hispanic organizations and advocates for tougher enforcement against illegal immigrants also attended. The White House also sent a representative.

If federal immigration reform depended “only on the will of the president, it would already be done,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “But we have to work with Congress.”

Arizona sheriff Antonio Estrada of Santa Cruz County criticized the new law, saying it requires local law enforcement to enforce what used to be a matter for federal authorities.

“In Santa Cruz, we don’t have the budget to add another level of authority,” he said. “The Border Patrol doesn’t do the work for local officers. They don’t investigate robberies, assaults, homicides.”

Nevertheless, he promised to enforce the law.

“We’re going to study this well and see how to apply it with the maximum compassion and common sense possible,” he said.

Arpaio, meanwhile, took to task U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez for his opposition to Arizona’s law. The Illinois Democrat was among 35 people arrested about a week ago during a protest at the White House.

“You were locked up in front of the White House. You were safer here in Phoenix,” Arpaio said. “We do not racial profile, we do not go on street corners and round up people because they look like different people.”

More than 200 seats at the Univision studios in Miami were filled, and the crowd spilled over into a media viewing room.

A group of students wore white T-shirts reading “30644″ — a number people can text to show support for the DREAM Act, long-sought federal legislation that would provide relief to some illegal immigrants who arrived before age 16.

An Associated Press-Univision poll released Thursday found sharp contrasts between the views of Hispanics and others on immigration. A resounding majority of Hispanics say illegal immigrants are a boon to the country, while most non-Hispanics say illegal immigrants are a drain on society.

The poll also found most Hispanics condemn Arizona’s strict new law targeting undocumented immigrants, while only 20 percent of non-Hispanics oppose it.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said ethnic profiling will not be tolerated under the law she signed in April.

Associated Press writer Luis Alonso in Washington contributed to this report.

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