Cruz Manuel Quiñones waits in the chilly predawn air at the corner of 23rd Street and Ninth Avenue. Men like him and the couple of dozen men with him have been gathering there for decades, hoping to be hired for a day’s work.
But they’ve been having a hard time lately.
Tucson police started cracking down in the area last month after neighbors complained about men littering, blocking sidewalks and spilling into the street.
A police cruiser parks alongside the men most mornings now, occasionally ticketing them or the contractors who pick them up for minor infractions such as blocking traffic.
The increased scrutiny comes on the heels of a U.S. Border Patrol raid conducted in the area in November at the request of Tucson police. The raid swept up 21 laborers, two of whom, like 30-year-old Quiñones, were in the country legally. Quiñones is a U.S. citizen.
The crackdown mirrors similar efforts in Phoenix and across the country. Day laborers are coming under greater scrutiny in the conflict over illegal immigration.
Tucson police Chief Richard Miranda says his officers are trying to keep neighborhoods safe and are not after illegal immigrants. In fact, he is opposed to making police officers enforce federal immigration laws.
But critics of the police activity at the day laborers’ gathering spot say it’s a poor use of resources and see a shift in the department’s long-standing policy of leaving immigration enforcement to the federal government.
The laborers say it’s scaring away contractors.
“Nobody’s stopping with the police around,” said Quiñones, who was born in Phoenix but lives with his wife and three children in Nogales, Son. He does landscaping for $12 an hour at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for most of the year and comes here when there’s no work there.
Robert Topalian periodically picks up workers here for landscaping on his rental property, which funds his full-time missionary work in Mexico, he said.
“This seems to be the best location for good workers,” Topalian said, leaning out the window of his white truck. “Everybody I’ve seen has been orderly and polite. I haven’t seen any problems.”
Some neighbors disagree.
When Benny Allen moved to 23rd Street last year, men started whistling at his 13- and 15-year-old daughters on their way to school.
“I didn’t like it,” he said, so he called the police.
One woman said she has stopped sitting on her patio ever since she saw a man urinating in her front yard.
“In a residential place, this isn’t something you want to see every day,” Allen said.
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—A federally funded program will train 10 sheriff’s deputies in Mecklenburg County, giving them more power to identify, detain and remove illegal immigrants who go through the jail system.
After the four-week course, the deputies will be certified immigration officers.
“We, as local officials, can sit around and wring our hands and say, ‘I wish someone would do something,’“ Sheriff Jim Pendergraph said at a news conference Monday. “We’re going to do something, and we’re going to try and do our part.”
The training comes from the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. It is the first such program to be implemented by a sheriff’s office that is east of the Mississippi River.
“We hope it’s going to stop (illegal immigration) from making a mockery of our criminal justice system,” said U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., who also attended Monday’s news conference.
Later this year, the deputies will be able to refer to a federal database of illegal immigrants.
“My office will have direct access to fingerprints, photographs and all demographic information regarding immigrants,” Pendergraph said. “We will also have certain enforcement powers regarding the detaining of illegal immigrants and their quick removal from our community.”