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AZ Immigrant Advocates Disappointed in Reform Delay

September 21, 2009

TUCSON, Ariz. - Arizona activists are disappointed in the lack of congressional action this year on comprehensive immigration reform. But they also point to some positive steps taken by the new Obama administration.

Border Action Network director Jennifer Allen says she's encouraged that military-style workplace raids have been suspended and that the U.S. Justice Department is probing allegations of racial profiling in Maricopa County. But she's disappointed that the Obama administration has put off promised comprehensive immigration reform, while at the same time expanding such harsh measures as having local police enforce federal immigration laws.

"They're continuing the enforcement policies that further marginalize immigrant communities, make public safety activity by local law enforcement more difficult, and in many ways discourage people's hope that we're in fact going to see new leadership on immigration reform."

Allen says it's an improvement that federal immigration agents are no longer rounding up and hauling away terrified workers, leaving their families to wonder where they are.

"Instead of having ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents dressed in full paramilitary garb storming into a workplace, the new approach is working with the company to verify that their employees match their social security numbers and that all their paperwork is in line."

While Allen sees the Justice Department investigation of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a positive development, she faults Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for failing to take stronger action against the sheriff's sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods.

"We want to see her cancel his 287(g) agreement, demonstrating the strength and commitment of the administration to upholding justice, and recognizing that there is equality under the law for all people and that does not exclude Maricopa County." Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides for delegation of federal authority in those areas to designated local law enforcement bodies.

Sheriff Arpaio denies that his deputies engage in racial profiling and insists he is only following existing laws.

While she considers health care reform important, Allen hopes Congress can still begin an overhaul of immigration policy yet this year.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ