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ON THE BORDER, ONCE AGAIN

President Barack Obama made a trip to El Paso to reignite the ol' immigration debate last week.

Obama tried to make the case that his administration has cracked down on illegal immigration, and now it is time to consider comprehensive reform—which means dealing with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

We've seen this play out before—namely, when President George W. Bush tried to do the same thing with the help of Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.

You might recall that it didn't go so well.

As you might expect, any evidence that the border is more secure—the decreased number of border crossers, the increased number of Border Patrol agents, the bump in deportations and workplace raids—has been rejected by the tough-on-the-border crowd, which now includes the entire Republican Party.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that McCain and Kyl are not on board with Obama's latest proposal. Arizona's senators released a joint statement saying that Obama should embrace their Border Security Enforcement Act—an effort to get even tougher on the border while continuing to ignore the underlying economic forces that drive illegal immigration.

It's funny, but we can't recall McCain or Kyl pushing very hard for this security plan when the GOP controlled both Congress and the White House, and the numbers of crossers were far higher.

Even Congressman Jeff Flake recently abandoned his support for comprehensive reform, because the timing isn't right. (The big problem with the timing has something to do with a Democrat in the White House, and a Senate campaign in Flake's future.)

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva praised Obama for laying out "the humane approach we need right now. When demagogues are willing to say anything to win another election and spread falsehoods to whip up fear, it was good to hear the president remind us of the values and common sense that built this country and made it the successful, united nation it is today."

Not all Democrats were excited about Obama's speech. Many are complaining that the Obama administration has cracked down too hard and should have done more while Democrats controlled the House and the Senate. Given that the GOP now controls the House, it strikes us as highly unlikely that comprehensive immigration reform—or even something as benign as the DREAM Act—is going anywhere now.

If we've realized this, we're pretty sure that Obama has figured it out, too. So we have to assume that the speech was not about actually getting comprehensive immigration reform passed. It was about framing the issue so that Latinos see that Obama would like to deliver immigration reform, but Republicans stand in the way.

Will that excite Latino voters enough to get them to the polls next year? Could be, although the Latino vote has traditionally trailed other demographics when it comes to turnout, and the "Year of the Hispanic Voter" has yet to arrive.

But even if Obama's effort doesn't get out the vote this time, it probably goes a long way toward driving a long-term wedge between Hispanics and the GOP—and given the growing Latino population, that could have consequences well into the future.


ABOUT THAT ETHNIC-STUDIES FORUM ...

After Tucson Unified School District governing board president Mark Stegeman decided to table a resolution on May 3 that would change some Mexican-American studies classes from core-credit classes to electives, the next step is answering this question: How should a forum—meant to continue the discussion following Stegeman's community-splitting resolution—be assembled?

Save Ethnic Studies, the group that helps raise money and support for the 11 TUSD teachers currently suing the state regarding the legalities of the anti-ethnic-studies law, would like to help organize the forum.

SES project director Deyanira Nevarez said the group's request to be involved has yet to receive a formal response, but she did see TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone on the TV news saying that SES wasn't going to help organize the event.

Nevarez expressed concern that there will be a lack of representation from the Mexican-American Studies Department and its supporters at the forum, meant to bring everyone together to discuss the classes' future.

"Is there a conscious effort to keep Mexican-American people out of the conversation?" Nevarez asked.

On Monday, May 16, those same worries were somewhat eased for Raul Aguirre, chair of the Mexican-American Studies Community Advisory Board, who told The Skinny that Pedicone reached out in a phone call to address several MAS board concerns.

Aguirre said he had met with Pedicone on Friday, May 13, to reiterate several issues—including expanding and protecting the MAS program, and inviting the Mexican-American community to be part of the forum.

Aguirre had been concerned that the forum was expanding beyond the issue of Mexican-American studies and its future into a possible discussion of topics including immigration, SB 1070, the 14th Amendment and post-Jan. 8 civility.

However, Aguirre told The Skinny that Pedicone has now agreed to focus on Mexican-American studies at the forum, and will invite MAS, as well as Save Ethnic Studies and the student group UNIDOS. More importantly, he did agree to not press charges against student protestors.

If these things happen, Aguirre said he feels it will open up "a true dialogue."

"I'm very glad he put UNIDOS in the equation. Earlier, (the school district) didn't understand the civil-rights importance that exists to the students and to the community," Aguirre said.


MINI-DORM STORM

The battle to keep Jefferson Park from being overrun by mini-dorm developments, as the Feldman's Historic Neighborhood has been, continues next month, when developer Michael Goodman and the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association go before the city of Tucson's Board of Adjustment.

The public hearing was originally scheduled for May 25, but is now set for June 29. It will include two appeals: One filed by the neighborhood, and the other by Goodman.

In mid-March, the JPNA and neighborhood property owner/resident Joan Hall won a ruling from the city's zoning administrator that Goodman's mini-dorms violate single-family zoning.

However, the decision excluded Goodman properties already under development, and in response to an appeal filed by the JPNA in mid-April, Zoning Administrator Craig Gross issued a stay on the permitting and inspections of these properties. Goodman can continue with construction, but when it comes time for a city inspection, the process will stop, and no permits will be issued. This will continue until a decision is made at the June 29 appeal hearing.

Goodman, meanwhile, filed an appeal against the city's decision regarding his properties' single-family zoning, even though most of his developments have five bedrooms and a bathroom for each bedroom—which is not your typical single-family home.

Hall said there are three Goodman properties in Jefferson Park that are currently under construction.

Another important date coming up for Jefferson Park is a public hearing on the Neighborhood Preservation Zone overlay ordinance, going before the City Council on June 21 at 5:30 p.m.

Residents and property owners hope the ordinance will protect the feel of Jefferson Park and make it more difficult to demolish historic properties.

Hall is optimistic. The Tucson City Council already endorsed a draft of neighborhood's ordinance at an early February meeting.

"That's the version that's moving forward," Hall said. "The zoning examiner also recommended our version."

More by Jim Nintzel

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