Local leaders sound off on Arizona immigration law

DOWNEY - With political angst and fresh legal challenges mounting across the country, opposition to Arizona's new immigration law has thrust the issue of illegal immigration back to the forefront of national debate.Despite its nominal effect on public affairs in Downey, local community leaders are expressing their own frustrations with the controversial immigration reform, which grants Arizona police officers the authority to detain those suspected of being in the country illegally unless they can prove otherwise. After being signed into law on April 23 by Gov. Jan Brewer, Senate Bill 1070 garnered both criticism and praise from politicians, law enforcement officials, church leaders and U.S. citizens around the country. In its original language, the law made it a state misdemeanor for an illegal immigrant to be in the state of Arizona without proof of U.S. citizenship. Subsequently, the legislation obligated police to question a person if they had probable cause that the person was an unlawful citizen. On April 30, Brewer signed a House bill, modifying the original law, which opponents believed encouraged racial profiling. Once the Arizona law takes effect police may only investigate immigration status incident to a lawful stop, detention or arrest. Mario Trujillo, an L.A. County prosecutor and former president of both the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA) and the Kiwanis Club of Downey, believes the change helped fix a misguided piece of legislation. "I don't think it's unconstitutional in its intent, but in its implementation," said Trujillo. "Under this law, one group is treated differently…By default, officers are going to racially profile Latinos in the implementation of the law." If enacted with its original text, Trujillo maintains that the law would have created a secondary chilling effect, leaving undocumented immigrants afraid of law enforcement thus reluctant to come forth and report crimes. "If gangs and cartels start victimizing communities, that segment of the population is not going to call the police," said Trujillo who believes the law may eventually be struck down in court. "How can they write laws that are unconstitutional - they should know better." Born in Mexico, Robert Zavala, owner of Freedom Vacations travel agency, came to the U.S. legally, something he believes should be done by every immigrant wishing to live in the country. "I've had cousins and friends come to the U.S. and they waited in line and complied with the laws - they did it the correct way," said Zavala. However, when it comes to Arizona's immigration law, Zavala believes the topic is presently shrouded by too much controversy and uncertainty. "The law is still too fluid," said Zavala. "They've done some adjustments to it and some articles have been written…I've been reading both sides of this, but we have to learn all the facts." Councilman Mario Guerra understands the law's purpose, but believes it came only as a response to much inactivity on the part of Washington D.C. "It's a cry for help," said Guerra. "The immigration law came about - and I'm not saying it's right - because of frustration and a lack of response from the federal government." Guerra said when the federal government fails to act, the state and city governments respond with legislation like Arizona Senate Bill 1070. "It's a frustrating thing, the way it was written," said Guerra. "Racial profiling goes against everything our constitution stands for, but it's a cry for help. Immigration reform is important and needs to be addressed." Several other community leaders were contacted for comment on this topic, but declined to share their opinion openly, demonstrating just how divisive and polarizing the sensitive topic can be.

********** Published: May 7, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 3