EL PASO — A split County Commissioners Court on Monday approved a resolution condemning an Arizona law aimed at ousting undocumented immigrants.
The resolution calls on county government to limit discretionary spending with Arizona-based companies. It also encourages El Paso County residents to boycott companies that are headquartered in Arizona.
In addition, it calls on the Texas Legislature to approve similar legislation, and it urges Congress to approve a bill that would reform U.S. immigration laws.
After impassioned testimony from scores of people, commissioners Willie Gandara Jr., Anna Perez and Veronica Escobar voted for the resolution. County Judge Anthony Cobos and Commissioner Daniel Haggerty dissented.
The Arizona law prohibits racial profiling, but Gandara, Escobar, Perez and other opponents say it encourages police to demand proof of citizenship from people if they look Hispanic.
The commissioners rejected an amendment by Escobar that would exempt locally owned franchises of Arizona companies from any citizen boycott. Escobar said she was worried that workers at businesses such as Peter Piper Pizza would be hurt by the boycott.
But Gandara, who sponsored the resolution, said he did not want to water it down. He said economic pressure forced the Arizona Legislature to adopt a Martin Luther King holiday in the 1980s, and similar pressure will defeat the new immigration law.
Cobos and Haggerty also voted against the amendment.
Arizona’s foray into immigration enforcement will create “a climate of fear and persecution of Latinos,” Gandara said.
Cobos said he, too, opposed the Arizona law, which requires police officers to ask people for proof of citizenship if police suspect they are in the country illegally.
“There is an anti-Latino movement nationwide,” Cobos said.
But he blamed that sentiment on Americans’ frustration with the national debt and high federal taxes.
“This country is in trouble and Latinos are being scapegoated,” Cobos said.
Still, Cobos voted against the resolution in part because it does not call for boycotts of Nevada and California. Those are the home states of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats who have the power to fix the U.S. immigration system, Cobos said.
And, by looking for undocumented immigrants, Arizona police will detect other crimes, such as sex slavery, Cobos said.
“Undocumented immigrants have nowhere to turn and some of them are going to be free because of this bill,” Cobos said of the Arizona law.
Haggerty said Arizona law is Arizona’s affair, and El Paso County has no business commenting on it. He also said boycotts and minority professional organizations are a kind of racial profiling.
“The Mexican-American Bar Association?” he asked. “Ouch. Where’s the White-American Bar Association?”
More than 40 members of the public spoke, and the vast majority favored the resolution.
“I don’t know what an undocumented person looks like, but I’d like to thank Arizona for showing me the color of hate,” Cecilio Saucedo said.
Not all in attendance opposed the Arizona law.
“Criminal is not a race. Illegal is not a race,” Armando Cardoza said, rejecting criticisms that the law amounted to racial profiling.
Salvador Gomez said there was nothing wrong with police asking for proof of legal residence.
“If you don’t like it, go. Leave America,” he said.
Former state Rep. Paul Moreno, who served for more than 40 years, took the opposite position. He called the Arizona law the “most divisive and prejudicial statute” he had seen.
“Mexico was stolen by the United States,” Moreno said. “We have earned the right to be Americans.”
Marty Schladen may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6127.