Obama Discusses Immigration Law With Arizona Gov. Brewer

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – Facing off over illegal immigration, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told President Barack Obama that Americans “want our border secured” and called Thursday for completion of a separating fence. Obama underscored his objections that the tough immigration law she signed is discriminatory.

Meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said Arizona’s law and similar efforts by more than 20 states would interfere with the federal government’s responsibility to set and enforce immigration policy.

Neither side appeared to give ground on the contentious issue although both talked about seeking a bipartisan solution. Obama urged her to “be his partner” in working toward a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s badly fractured immigration system.

The unusual meeting between the president and the governor was a byprouct of Brewer’s decision to sign a first-of-its-kind law requiring police enforcing other laws to check immigration status if there is reason to believe someone is in the country illegally. The law also makes being here illegally a state crime. Brewer sought the meeting and Obama, who has denounced the law, accepted.

Emerging from the half-hour Oval Office session, Brewer said Obama had assured her that most of the 1,200 National Guard troops he is sending to the U.S.-Mexico border would be going to her state.

“He assured us that the majority of those resources would be coming to Arizona,” she told reporters on the White House driveway.

Brewer said she and Obama, at odds over how to control illegal immigration, also agreed to try to work together on solutions. She said White House staff would visit Arizona in a couple of weeks to continue the “very cordial discussion” she had with the president.

Outside the White House, hundreds of protesters, as unhappy with the law as they are with Obama’s broken promise to overhaul a system he and others say is broken, noisily greeted the Republican governor as she arrived for the meeting.

Nearly 200 people walked in a circle on the pedestrian-only portion of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House — holding signs, chanting “Jan Brewer, shame on you!” beating drums and, in the case of one man, strumming a guitar.

The Arizona law is scheduled to take effect July 29, unless it is blocked by a court under pending legal challenges. Obama’s Justice Department also is reviewing whether the law violates civil rights, with an eye toward a possible court challenge of its own.

Brewer has said she signed the law because she believes Washington had failed to do its part to protect the U.S.-Mexico border.

More than 20 states are considering similar legislation, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

The first of its kind in the U.S., Arizona’s law has earned Obama’s condemnation, sparked boycotts of Arizona and returned the emotionally and politically charged immigration issue back to the forefront of the national conscience.

Obama has called Arizona’s law a “misdirected expression of frustration” at the federal government’s inability to act.

The president favors a comprehensive approach that would both tighten access to the border and help millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. become citizens. Some Republicans, including Brewer and Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, want tighter border controls first.

Obama has been more outspoken on the issue in recent weeks, restating a desire to enact a comprehensive overhaul but also reminding advocates that Democrats only have 59 votes in the Senate — one vote short of the number needed to overcome GOP stalling tactics.

Obama has met with Republican senators and telephoned some privately, but thus far Democrats have been unable to get Republican allies to write an immigration reform bill. Some Democrats also oppose taking up immigration reform this election year.

While lawmakers and border-state governors say more federal troops are needed to fight rising violence in their states, government data obtained by The Associated Press show it actually isn’t so dangerous down there after all.

The top four big U.S. cities with the lowest violent crime rates — San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin — are in border states, according to a new FBI report. And an internal Customs and Border Protection report shows its agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.

Brewer said in a televised interview last weekend: “We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.” But FBI crime reports for 2009 says violent crime in Arizona declined. And violent crimes in Southwest border counties are among the lowest in the nation per capita — they’ve dropped by more than 30 percent in the last two decades.

Brewer said after Thursday’s meeting that she believes people across the country “want our border secured” and that she would like to see construction begin soon to complete a fence along the border.

The Obama-Brewer meeting was closed to the media, so reporters did not see them together. The White House later released an official photograph from the meeting.

Outside the White House, some protesters criticized Brewer and some criticized Obama for welcoming her to his office.

Rachel Angulo, of Tempe, Ariz., was vacationing in Washington when she learned about the protest from her Facebook friends. She said she decided to break from sightseeing to join. She wore a white T-shirt with the question “Do I look illegal?” on the front.

“I believe in security, but in a just security,” said the Phoenix-born Angulo. “Just because I have on my huaraches doesn’t mean I’m illegal.” Huaraches are sandals.

Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Obama should not have met with Brewer.

“She wants to advance this hypothesis the federal government will not act on immigration reform and so Arizona is taking matters into its own hands,” Wilkes said. “But what she’s unwilling to disclose is the reason the federal government can’t act is because Gov. Brewer and her Republican colleagues have blocked us.”

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