Mexican Consul Critical Of NW Ark. Immigration Enforcement

Jon Gambrell, AP, August 28, 2007

A northwest Arkansas mayor said he is willing to risk a lawsuit to go forward with a new program that allows local police to check a person’s immigration status.

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Immigration enforcement training recently completed by officers in Rogers, Springdale and the Benton and Washington county sheriff’s offices was the target of criticism Monday by Mexican Consul Andres Chao. Chao is based in Little Rock and serves the Mexican population in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Chao said communities in northwest Arkansas that send police officers to receive immigration enforcement training were “closing the door” to reaching the state’s growing Hispanic population. He singled out [Rogers Mayor Steve] Womack for ignoring his request to discuss the practice.

“The solution to that problem (of immigration) is to open the communication channels, to open the doors to the community,” Chao told a meeting of the Arkansas Committee on Foreign Relations. “They’re going to close the door.”

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Womack said Rogers planned to use a “field model” in checking immigration status—meaning an officer could run the immigration status of someone pulled over for a traffic stop. The mayor said race would not be a factor in deciding who to run through the immigration database.

{snip}implement the immigration checks.

Womack also said an employee of the consulate talked to one of his assistants about scheduling a time to talk during the upcoming LPGA Northwest Arkansas Championship in Rogers. The mayor said he wouldn’t mind talking for “15 minutes or a half an hour” with Chao if the consul could be flexible with his timing.

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The four agencies have discussed forming a regional task force to handle immigration checks in northwest Arkansas, home to much of the state’s rapidly growing Hispanic community.

Census estimates show Arkansas has about 144,000 Hispanic residents. Other studies conclude half of the state’s immigrant population lives there illegally.

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