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Ariz. Immigration Law Flares Debate In S.D.

Ariz. Immigration Law Flares Debate In S.D.
Anger flares over Arizona's new immigration law and its implications for racial profiling. Will this approach spread to other states? San Diego reacts for and against police empowerment in the illegal immigration debate.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner. I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. Today we’ll examine reaction in San Diego to the new Arizona immigration law, maneuvering in San Diego’s Centre City Development Corporation to extend its life and build out downtown, and a growing controversy over local campaign funding rules and local ethics commissions. The editors with me today are Alisa Joyce Barba, western bureau chief for NPR News. It’s good to see you again, Alisa.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): Good morning, Gloria.

PENNER: Good morning. And Andrew Donohue, editor of I’m so glad you join us again, Andrew.

ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, It’s always good to see you, Gloria.

PENNER: Yeah, thank you. And John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint. Welcome back, John.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Thank you, Gloria.

PENNER: And our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. So let’s start with illegal immigration, which has always been a hot topic but now it’s boiling over since Arizona’s governor signed a new state law that gives police the right to check the identification of people they suspect could be in Arizona illegally and detain them. So, Alisa, there’s been some confusion exactly what the law says. What’s your understanding of it and how it changes things?

BARBA: You know, it is confusing, and, in fact, the Arizona legislature made some changes to the law yesterday that – to kind of soften it a little bit in a way and, I think, toughen it in a way. Basically, I – my understanding—and correct me if you all, you know, have a different understanding—my understanding is that the state law now mandates law enforcement in Arizona to check people’s ID if they pull them over for any other – any kind of perceived wrong, a traffic violation, you know, even, in fact, you know, any kind of way in which the police would come into contact with a citizen under lawful contact. They can check the ID and if a person does not have proper legal ID, then that person is arrested. They changed it. There’s concerns, of course, that that is going to lead to racial profiling, that people will be pulled over because police perceive them to be here or just, you know, have an idea, suspect that they may be here illegally, so yesterday one of the changes in the law said you cannot pull somebody over just on the basis of race, there has to be something else going on.

PENNER: So when you say pull over, you’re talking about in a car?

BARBA: Well, yeah. Pull over, stop, check ID, that kind of thing.

PENNER: Well, that’s the part that confuses me. You’re supposed to have a driver’s license if you are…

BARBA: Driver’s license is legal ID. I mean, that shows you’re in the country legally if you have a driver’s license, at least in Arizona because you cannot get a driver’s license in Arizona unless you have legal proof of being here legally.

PENNER: And if you didn’t have a driver’s license, you would be outside the law whether you were…

BARBA: That’s true.

PENNER: …an illegal immigrant or not because…

BARBA: That’s true.

PENNER: …you were driving without a license.

BARBA: That’s true. That’s a very good point.

PENNER: So, John, reflect on this for me. Does this all make sense?

WARREN: Well, you know, legally it does and it’s a question of the morality of it. I mean, we have had racial profiling for a very long time. We’ve had issues with police stops going back to the very famous Supreme Court case called Mapp v. Ohio in terms of a reasonable search and seizure, and can people be searched. So police will find a way to pull people over. I mean, they can say your tail light’s out or you were wobbling or whatever. The difference is now when they pull you over, given the additional authority from this bill, they can now go a step further in terms of ID. In the past, as in San Diego, if they stopped you and you were illegal, then they might call Customs or Border Patrol but they didn’t arrest you or hold you. Now the full weight of apprehension and interrogation is being thrown in. And this raises issues not only for people of Arizona but it raises Constitutional issues for all people of ethnicity in this country in terms of Constitutional guarantees and that’s what makes it even more serious than just Arizona.

PENNER: Well, certainly there’s been widespread reaction and, Andrew, now you’re editor of one of our major online newspapers. What are you observing in terms of what’s going on in San Diego with protests against this and those who are in support of it?

DONOHUE: Well, I think what’s been particularly noteworthy is the reaction of a couple of our local congressmen. The first one is Duncan Hunter. I thought he had a fascinating quote on These Days just this week. You know, a lot of this – a lot of the discussion goes on about, you know, whether illegal immigrants are stealing jobs and whether this is healthy for the economy but he actually said this, and I’ll quote him, we have to stop and make sure that you don’t have more illegal aliens coming across, you don’t have drug runners coming across, rapists, murderers and terrorists. And I thought that was an extreme, a very extreme, interpretation of what this law is supposed to stop. And then you had, I believe, Brian Bilbray on the other end – or, on the same end, saying that you could sort of tell what an illegal alien looked like by how he dressed.

PENNER: So it’s sort of a wide net that both of them are casting. Let me ask our listeners about this because I value your opinion. What is your impression of the Arizona law? And also, what is your impression of the reaction to it? One or the other or both will be lovely. 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Alisa.

BARBA: Yeah, you know, there’s been a tremendous amount of backlash against this law once it was signed into law a week ago by Governor Jan Brewer. You know, a lot of people from all over the place, you know, city councils, you know, advocating boycotts of travel to Arizona. The State Assembly, as you mentioned earlier, here in California passed a bill calling for comprehensive immigration reform. There’s a lot of push saying, you know, this is happening in Arizona because the feds are not doing their job. But there’s a lot of outrage about the bill and the perceived civil rights violations and stuff but what I find really interesting, and I don’t really know the answer to this, is 70% of Arizonans supported this bill and they’re not all conservative, rightwing extremists. The 70% of Arizonans and apparently a recent poll I heard reported this morning, 51% of Americans support this bill. They think it’s a very good idea. So there’s fear, there’s concern. I mean, rightly or wrongly, people perceive this as the way to go, which I find really interesting.

PENNER: How do you think, Andrew, that our high joblessness and our slow economy feed into this issue? Because that’s what Alisa really is raising.

DONOHUE: Yeah. No, that’s a great question. It’s just what I wanted to jump into…


DONOHUE: …because if you look at throughout the history of – it’s not just this country but any country, when you have unemployment, when you have a poor economy, people go looking for scapegoats. And I think that’s what you see now. I mean, immigration’s been a big issue for a very long time but we’re moving in a very, very extreme sense right now. Duncan Hunter also brought up the fact that people who are actually born in the United States should not be considered full citizens as well. So we’re going…

PENNER: And should be deported.

DONOHUE: And should be deported. Well…

BARBA: Well, he’s – Okay, I mean, let’s just be clear…


BARBA: …he’s talking about children born to illegal immigrants.


PENNER: Right.

DONOHUE: Yeah, exact – I’m sorry. That was – that’s a key point. But, I mean, that’s what we’re seeing right now. I think we’re seeing a very tough economic time and we’re looking for scapegoats.

PENNER: Before we go to our phones, because we’re getting a lot of response on this—of course I thought we would—let’s talk about this other issue which is standing out there. What are the possibilities, John, that a state dealing with a federal issue is out of line and that the courts could actually nullify the Arizona law?

WARREN: Well, the possibilities are already strong because the federal government outweighs the state government. We have that issue on the marijuana use where we want to say it’s okay and the federal law says it’s not. Federal law prevails at any point when there’s a conflict between state and federal law. Now we have three cities in Arizona that are going to sue, Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, and their cases will probably go to the Supreme Court and be the basis on which the federal government gets to this unless legislation is passed in Congress to overturn it.

PENNER: So they would sue in federal court and not in state court?

WARREN: Yes. Yes, they would have to – It would be federal because they’re not looking – I don’t think they’re – Well, they could sue in the state court but I think they – it will – federal issues will be brought into it.

PENNER: All right, well, Alisa and then let’s go to the phones.

BARBA: They’ve already – Actually, Phoenix and Tucson have already – They filed suit yesterday…

PENNER: They did?

BARBA: …on the very issue. The complication – and I don’t think it’s cut and dried. The complication is, is that this law is written very, very carefully to basically make state law conform with federal law. So it’s basically state law is implementing federal law so that there is a little bit of…

WARREN: Yeah, that makes a difference.

BARBA: It could – it could be a legal toss-up.

PENNER: So it’s a cleverly written piece of legislation.


PENNER: All right, let’s go to Ronald, in University Heights, who is waiting on the phone to speak with us. Ronald, you’re on with the editors.

RONALD (Caller, University Heights): Did they put me on?

PENNER: Yes, you’re on, Ronald. We’re waiting for you.

RONALD: Hello?

PENNER: Yes, Ronald, can you hear us?

RONALD: I hear you.

PENNER: Do you have your radio on?

RONALD: No, I don’t.

PENNER: Oh, well, then, please make your comment or question.

RONALD: John Warren, I’ve heard your past discussions on this issue, and John Warren always makes a good point about the fact that these undocumenteds come across because there are jobs and we need to put penalties on businesses. Well, last week there was a huge suit filed against a French Gourmet restaurant in San Diego for willingly ignoring all the checks about workers to see they’re here illegally or not, and there’s a whole host of criticism against the government for filing that suit, that it’s unfair, that how were they to know? So I just find an incredible amount of hypocrisy in this whole issue.

PENNER: Thank you, Ronald. John.

WARREN: Well, I think that the suit was rightfully filed and that the problem is that people who are at the local level are embarrassed because they have an upfront, personal relationship with those who are, quote, unquote, victimized by implementing the law. But the federal law has to be upheld and prevails. So the hypocrisy’s going to be at the lower level but it should not be at the federal.

PENNER: Okay. Jeff in Encinitas is with us now, and thanks, Ronald, for your call. Jeff, you’re on with the editors.

JEFF (Caller, Encinitas): Yes, thank you.

PENNER: Of course.

JEFF: I wanted to point out that in the last year I’ve been through two – stopped at two checkpoints in Encinitas where there’s been probably five police cars and there’s been a Border Patrol agent and they say that it is for a seatbelt check but, in fact, they’re peeling off people of color who don’t have the proper documentation, whether it’s a driver’s license, green card, whatever. And…

PENNER: Go ahead. Are you still there, Jeff? We lost Jeff. I think we get his point, Andrew. So perhaps this happens just generally anyway?

DONOHUE: Well, that’s a very interesting point. There’s been some investigative reporting actually done by a new group up in the Bay area called California Watch and they have found that these DUI stops that are being conducted all around the state are catching more people, impounding more cars, catching more illegal immigrants than they are catching anybody with DUIs and they’re being funded with money that’s supposed to be going to DUI.


DONOHUE: So we’re seeing this sort of stuff much more clandestinely all throughout, I would imagine the country but definitely in California.

PENNER: So we don’t even need a piece of legislation to make it happen, is that what you’re saying, Andrew?


BARBA: Again, the difference is, is that if they catch somebody like that, they turn them over to the feds. That’s the difference. Whereas in Arizona, it’s the state who takes them.

PENNER: All right, let’s take one more call before we need to go into our break. Ian in Solana Beach is with us. Hi, Ian, you’re on with the editors.

IAN (Caller, Solana Beach): Good morning, Dor…

PENNER: Gloria.

IAN: …Gloria and the editors. I was – I just had one quick question. Is there any provision in the Arizona bill for fining employers for hiring illegals or is this – or is the Arizona bill entirely on the backs of the illegal immigrant?

BARBA: The Arizona bill is totally focused on the illegal immigrants but there’s another law in Arizona, they have a law that punishes employers of illegal immigrants. They have some of the strongest anti-illegal immigrant laws in the nation. And they do have one that specifically goes after employers.

PENNER: John, you want to add to that?

WARREN: And I believe they might even go after housing in Arizona because…

BARBA: Umm-hmm.

WARREN: …or maybe that was just Encinitas they were trying to do that here.

BARBA: Yeah.

PENNER: Yeah, there were a couple – I was going to ask about that. Andrew, you know, the feds haven’t done very much at all about immigration reform so now we see a state taking it up. But here in San Diego County, we actually saw some municipalities doing something about illegal immigrants.

DONOHUE: Yeah, Escondido was sort of the hotbed for it. It was doing these DUI – or, these sort of traffic stops that we were talking about. They were also doing a lot with housing like John was talking about, and the housing – their housing measure was struck down by the courts as unconstitutional so I think we’re going to see, no matter what, we’re going to see a real strong constitutional challenge to this – to the law in Arizona. And so far, courts have not sided with people who have been very strict because, I mean, we had this happen here in California with Prop 187 back under Pete Wilson and that was eventually struck down by the courts.

PENNER: It was, indeed but its legacy is still with us in some regard.

DONOHUE: It endures, yes.

PENNER: We are going to return to this topic. I want to ask about boycotting Arizona when we get back. There’s – there have been several groups and states that have been discussing it and actually moving ahead in some direction on that. So our number is 1-888-895-5727. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m at the roundtable today with Alisa Joyce Barba from NPR News, John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and Andrew Donohue from And I’ll tell you, this immigration issue has so many aspects to it that I’m just wondering which ones I should cover in the, oh, three or four or five minutes that we have left. So I think I’m going to leave it up to you, and we’ll see what our callers want to talk about. James in La Jolla is on with us. And, James, I’m going to ask you to make it brief, as I will all our callers so we can get to as many comments as possible.

JAMES (Caller, La Jolla): I will. Thank you so much. I had a couple of quick questions and comments. Number one was, I wonder how they propose to pay for the incarceration of all these aliens that they intend to catch with this new law. Number two, I wonder what the authority is of a state to actually deport somebody from the United States. You can kick someone out of your state but not out of the country. And number three, I wonder what provisions they put into place for the increase in violent crime that will occur because they’re certainly not going to have people reporting rapes and robberies and assaults now that they know they’re going to be deported if they do, you know.

PENNER: Well, most interesting, James. Very interesting. All right, so let’s start with the cost to Arizona. Alisa, take that one.

BARBA: You know, I don’t really know how they have figured that into the legislation. I even – haven’t even heard that brought up in reference to this but it’s a really good point because every state turns to the federal government to cover the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants. And so if the state – I mean, it seems to me that it’s a funny thing if the state is taking in on themselves to incarcerate them but is then going to ask the feds to pay for it.

PENNER: And isn’t Arizona having, you know, the same kind of financial problems that California and others are having?

BARBA: Absolutely. Absolutely.

PENNER: Yeah, and if the boycotts that are being threatened, don’t travel to Arizona, don’t have your conventions there, don’t send your kids there to college, I mean, if those take place, that would further hurt Arizona’s economy.

BARBA: On the other hand, if 51% of Americans think this is a good idea, maybe they will all go to Arizona and bolster the economy, you know, so…

PENNER: It’s possible. John, the other part of James’ question about can states actually deport, can they send people back across the border to Mexico or back to Canada or back to Europe?

WARREN: Well, the states don’t do it. What happens here in San Diego, I mean, if you’re picked up, you end up in federal court. And I believe in Arizona what they’ll probably do is take these people and turn them over to the federal facility and put the embarrassment on the federal government as to whether or not they receive them or let them out. And then the government has to take over. But the state doesn’t have the authority to deport.

PENNER: Okay, that’s what I thought, and you confirmed it for me. And, Andrew, that last part, that is so fascinating that people are going to be afraid to report crimes because then they would have to present their IDs.

DONOHUE: I think that’s – that is a fascinating point. That’s one of those – he asked one of those series of questions where I think he knew the answer to all of them but they’re – that is tremendous. And not only would – could you have an increase, but you would obviously have a decrease in the reporting of those crimes, which is going to make local law enforcement pretty happy anyways because then they’re going to have fewer violent crimes on the books.

PENNER: Is it one of those unintended consequences, part of a piece of legislation?

DONOHUE: I think so.

WARREN: But it’s…


WARREN: …already done. It’s already done because when you call to report a crime, the first thing they ask you for is your social security number and your date of birth. And the police, even though you’re making a report, San Diego Police does this, they will run you through the system to see whether or not you have warrants or any actions against you.


WARREN: So it’s already in effect.

PENNER: Well, thank you for that information. And now let’s hear what Erica in San Diego has to say. And, James, once again, thanks for your call. Erica, you’re on with the editors.

ERICA (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Good morning.

PENNER: Good morning.

ERICA: I’m calling because my family is from San Luis, Arizona, which is predominantly a agricultural community, and predominantly of Mexican descent. Now my family are naturalized citizens and my husband is a veteran, also naturalized citizen but a veteran of the Gulf war. My daughter’s Mexican, although she’s a born U.S. citizen. I’m a U.S. citizen. However, walking down the street or speaking Spanish or being in a store speaking Spanish, my understanding of the law is anyone – this law allows Arizonans, citizens, to essentially do a citizen arrest, to call the police to check your ID based on your racial descent or if you’re speaking Spanish.

PENNER: Let me ask Alisa what she knows about that.

BARBA: I don’t know whether they can do a citizen’s arrest but what the law does allow, which is just fascinating, is it allows citizens to sue law enforcement if they feel that law enforcement is not enforcing this law. So it does empower local citizens and the citizenry to make sure that the police are actually going after the people that the law wants the police to go after. So it’s not exactly the way you described it but it’s not too far off.

PENNER: Okay, thank you, but that description is really hair-raising. Thank you very much, Erica. And I think we have time for one more call from Barney in San Diego. Barney, you’re on with the editors.

BARNEY (Caller, San Diego): Hi, I have a quick question. So let’s say that somebody is driving or pulled over for a traffic violation, they’re Anglo Saxon white, and they’re unable to produce a license, it seems to me that they would then be cited and then perhaps have an opportunity to take that up with the courts and eventually fined. And the difference is, is that if you’re of Hispanic descent or any other ethnicity and you are pulled over and you’re unable to produce a driver’s license, that you would immediately be arrested. There’s a big delta there and I think that, again, it just really steers towards racial profiling. And I’ll take my answer off the air.

PENNER: Okay, well, thank you. That actually will have to be our last comment from our listeners. But I think what the implication here is, could what Arizona did spread? Could it go beyond Arizona? Could we see other states, out of frustration because of the inaction of the federal government start picking up on laws like this. And that’s the first part of the question. The second part is, considering the huge divide in Congress with Republicans saying there’s no way that illegal immigration reform is going to be enacted upon, can we expect anything from the federal government? Let me start with you on all this, Andrew.

DONOHUE: Well, I think what we have to see is we don’t know how this is actually going to play out on the ground and so the questions from those callers are so legitimate and we just don’t know. I don’t think you’re going to see it spread to that many other states because I think this legal challenge is going to step in and we’re going to have to watch and see how that plays out now. Now, all indications are, is that Congress isn’t going to take this up until the next year or so. I think we’re going to have to wait to see what happens in the midterm elections in 2010 and see sort of what the mix is in the House and the Senate.

PENNER: How do you think this is going to work out, John?

WARREN: Well, I think when you consider the census numbers showing that the Anglo population is going down and you consider the protests which we seem to have each May first, and this is coming up, with the Mexican flag flying and all of this, and you look at the 54% of the Latinos, people in America, in California alone, are from Latin America, you’re going to see an increasing amount of activity against this. And it’s not going to go away and Schumer and that whole group in Congress trying to make some Democratic inroad at the last minute are running into a strong wall of resistance that suggests that this battle is going to be here for a while.

PENNER: Well, you know, the battle even hits us locally because we have one of our candidates for sheriff, Jay LaSuer, who is strongly supported by the Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, illegal immigration is a big issue for him. So, you know, he hasn’t been thought of as the front runner but maybe this’ll change all that.

BARBA: Well, you know, Prop 187, you know, which denied – which sought to deny illegal immigrants healthcare and other benefits in California, was supported by a majority of Californians. It was very popular. But I think John’s point is the politics of this is really going to dictate what’s going on with immigration reform. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, is saying he’s going to bring it to the table partly because he is fighting an uphill battle in his reelection and he looks at a third of his voters, I think, are Hispanic. And…

PENNER: From Nevada.

BARBA: Right. Yeah, exactly, in Nevada. And I think that immigration reform is going to be a political salvation for many Democrats as we move into this, into the next election year.

PENNER: Well, thank you very much. Thank you, editors, for a really wise discussion on this. And I urge our listeners who didn’t get to speak with us to go to and list your comment. We do read them, and often I respond to them so I’ll be happy to take a look at what you have to write. Let’s move on.