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The saga of the DREAM Act kids and the trouble with Tucson pensions

DREAM DEFERRED

The DREAM Act kids were back in the news last week when nine undocumented people who had grown up in the United States but had been deported (or had self-deported themselves) crossed the border in Nogales. They were allowed across, but were taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ended up in an Eloy detention center, where they remained as of press time.

One of the detainees, Lizbeth Mateo, wrote in a Huffington Post blog entry that she was joining the effort to bring attention to how the nation's broken immigration system is splitting families apart.

"I know how it feels to wait on the other side of the fence for your loved one to come home," Mateo wrote. "My uncle was deported two years ago, leaving a wife, children, and grandchildren behind. Our family was shaken to the core. We were afraid that any of us could be next."

While they are now behind bars, the DREAM 9, as they've dubbed themselves, hope to bring attention not only to their plight, but to the plight of others in the Eloy detention center.

As Mateo explained in her article, "last year we succeeded in infiltrating a detention center in Florida, and fought for the release of dozens of detainees by bringing their cases into the public light. With this action, we hope to continue to build on our successes."

Attorney Jeff Rogers, the former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, said that some of the kids could be facing tough legal consequences for the act of civil disobedience.

Rogers said on last week AZ Illustrated Politics that three of the activists may have upset their chances for gaining legal status by not having continuous residency in the United States.

"These three people may have put themselves in danger of deportation," Rogers said.

Rogers added that some of the others, who had been deported before, now could face stiffer penalties for reentry.

"They possibly have put themselves in a precarious position," Rogers said.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the DREAM Act split within the GOP was on full display last week when when Congressman Steve King weighed in on undocumented youth.

In an interview with Newsmax, King noted that for every DREAM Act kid "who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."

King's remarks drew a rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner, who issued a statement calling King's comments "wrong."

"There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language," Boehner said. "Everyone needs to remember that."

But Boehner's criticism didn't deter King, who took the House floor to defend his remarks based on news reports that cartels are increasingly turning to kids to use in smuggling operations.

While cartels may indeed be recruiting kids to carry drugs, that hardly makes them hardened criminals. More likely, it makes many of them desperate kids who don't have especially good options or especially good judgment. And it's hardly the majority of kids who would be covered under the DREAM Act.

As The Skinny noted last week, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have both tried to adopt a kinder, gentler approach to Latinos by recently signaling their support for the basic principles of the DREAM Act, so having King dismiss Latino kids as a bunch of dope fiends racing across the desert as part of a marijuana-fueled invasion wasn't exactly what the GOP leadership needs.

But it's important to remember that it wasn't so long ago that both Boehner and Cantor were lined up with King. Just months ago, both GOP leaders voted—along with nearly every other Republican—to support legisation sponsored by King that would have ended the Obama administration's deferred-action program that has allowed DREAM Act kids with no criminal record to remain in the United States.

Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva called on GOP House leadership to pull King from the Judiciary Committee that will soon be crafting immigration-reform legislation.

"I appreciate the Speaker, Mr. Cantor and others who have repudiated what Steve King said," Grijalva said at a press conference last week. "I think that's important. But the point is that this is a pathological habit and a performance on the part of Steve King. He's done it before. He's made commentaries as offensive, if not more offensive, on other instances, and it's been an attitude about seeing immigrants and to some extent, maybe, the Latino community as some sort of threat. I think the leadership of the Republican Party should seriously consider removing him from Judiciary. That is the committee from which some sort of movement on immigration reform is going to emanate, and they should put somebody in there from their party who wants to get something done, as opposed to somebody who is in there to effectively sabotage any effort to get immigration reform done."

PENSION INITIATIVE HEADED TO COURT

The proposed initiative to scrap the city of Tucson's pension program is facing a legal challenge.

Attorney Roopali H. Desai of Phoenix-based Coppersmith Schermer and Brockelman filed the lawsuit on Monday, July 22. The suit alleges that many of the signatures on the initiatives should be invalidated for various technical reasons, including 6,713 signatures that attorneys allege were collected by people with criminal records whose civil rights have not been restored.

Pete Zimmerman, the political consultant for the Committee for Sustainable Retirement campaign, told The Skinny that the lawsuit was "clearly an effort to obfuscate the issue."

The petition effort was carefully conducted and the offices of the City Clerk and County Recorder rigorously examined the signatures, ultimately concluding that the submittal exceeded the minimum requirements by more than 40 percent," Zimmerman said in an email. "The 23,000 people who signed the petition deserve to see this issue on the November ballot. Let the voters decide.

Desai did not return a phone call from The Skinny.

The initiative seeks to replace the city's current pension program with a 401(k)-style retirement plan. City officials have acknowledged that the city's pension program faces financial problems, but say that the proposed initiative would force through a reform that would cost the city millions of dollars in the first few years because fewer workers would be paying into the program, so the city's general fund would have to make up the difference.

"This initiative is absolutely the wrong approach and is projected to cost the city $24 million in the first year alone," Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told The Skinny a few weeks back. "By cutting off new employees from paying into the existing system, the money to pay those obligations will have to come out of the general fund, and that would mean significant cuts to city services. The outside group that's trying to impose this on Tucson does not have our city's best interests at heart."

Zimmerman has said that city officials are exaggerating the impact of the initiative.

A court date on the petition challenge has been set for Friday, Aug. 2, in Pima County Superior Court Judge James E. Marner's courtroom.

More by Jim Nintzel

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