Anchor Marco Werman speaks with reporter Valeria Fernandez about the massive human trafficking crackdown in Arizona…and a controversial new bill that would give local authorities sweeping powers to check the status of anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Fernandez is a reporter with Feet in Two Worlds, a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to public radio.
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MARCO WERMAN: Arizonans are divided over a massive law enforcement operation that took place in their state yesterday. Many say it’s about time that the feds clamped down on illegal immigration, but others say Arizona is turning into a police state. More than 800 officers from nine law enforcement agencies took part in yesterday’s raids. They arrested 47 people who are charged with being part of human smuggling rings. The raids come just as Arizona’s state lawmakers are considering new legislation that would give local authorities sweeping powers to check the status of anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Valeria Fernandez is a reporter with Feet in Two Worlds, a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to public radio. She says the raids targeted smuggling rings that were disguised as legitimate shuttle bus companies.
VALERIA FERNANDEZ: They were putting up a front. They were trying to look like a business that was providing a shuttling service, but in reality what they were doing is giving the undocumented immigrants fake pass tickets and basically shuttling them from Tucson to areas in Phoenix and then over to the different destinations.
WERMAN: Now the raid happened, as I indicated, while the state lawmakers are debating new immigration legislation and waiting to hear whether the Governor is going to sign that or not. Without going into all the details, what basically would this new measure mean if it became law?
FERNANDEZ: Well basically what this new measure will do is allow the local police to arrest anybody that they suspect that is not legally in the United States. All they need is a reasonable suspicion. There is a great concern on the part of a lot of immigrant advocates that it could lead to racial profiling and a number of lawsuits are expected.
WERMAN: Valeria, I’d like to hear comments now from Arizona State Senator Russell Pierce. Supporters of the bill like him say the federal government is preventing local law enforcement on the ground in Arizona from doing its job in stopping illegal immigration. Here’s what Mr. Pierce has to say:
RUSSELL PIERCE: Remove these handcuffs. Enough is enough. The billions of dollars in costs, jobs taken from Americans, we’re a nation of laws. The rule of law has to stand for something.
WERMAN: Valeria, why does Arizona State Senator Pierce think local officials are handcuffed?
FERNANDEZ: Well he feels that the current state policies that we have that restrict them to go after criminals and he wants them to have broader powers.
WERMAN: Okay, here is the other side of the argument. This is father Glenn Jencks who represents the Valley Interfaith Network, that’s a group that has been critical of this legislation.
GLENN JENCKS: The content of this particular bill is especially hateful. I believe it is intended to be hateful. The proponents make no attempt to hide the fact that they want to drive every undocumented person out of the state of Arizona. What they don’t think about is these people have families and the families are going to go with them. And the consequences to the state are so dramatic. It’s to shoot yourself in the foot again.
WERMAN: Valeria, practically speaking, is this legislation dividing Arizona?
FERNANDEZ: Well you have families of mixed status. People that are undocumented immigrants that have children that are U.S. citizens and now they’re going to have to make a decision of whether or not they want to leave the state and leave the country. Businesses are concerned that it’s going to drive investment away from the state and that it’s not going to bring positive solutions for the community as a whole to a problem that is very real.
WERMAN: Valeria Fernandez, a reporter with Feet in Two Worlds, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School in New York. Thank you very much Valeria for your time.
FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much Marco.
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