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Hispanic groups criticize Blunt's immigration crackdown

Gov. Matt Blunt (UPI file photo)
Gov. Matt Blunt (UPI file photo)


St. Louis, MO – Hispanic advocates are criticizing Gov. Matt Blunt's new crackdown on illegal immigration. They held an event Thursday, just hours before Blunt announced the effort had yielded its first arrest and deportation proceedings of an undocumented resident.

Hispanic business owners and professionals worry the new statewide initiative will target them for immigration checks just because of their ethnicity, according to Jorge Riopedre with the St. Louis-area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"This is an open door to racial profiling," Riopedre said. "They're not talking about immigrants they're talking about Hispanics."

Blunt's spokeswoman Jessica Robinson disputed that assessment: "The only people affected by this are ones who broke the law, violated the border and have no legal right to be in the United States."

Blunt announced a two-pronged crackdown in illegal immigration this week. On Monday, he directed Missouri Highway Patrol agents to check the immigration status of every person they incarcerate. On Tuesday, he directed the Missouri Department of Economic Development to tighten oversight of contractors that receive state tax breaks or funding.

The initiative earned both applause and condemnation from business groups in St. Louis.

The Carpenter's District of Greater St. Louis supported the measure, claiming that undocumented workers bring down the wages of its unionized members.

"They are undermining my whole community," said union secretary-treasurer Terry Nelson. He said he would go from excited to "ecstatic" about Blunt's initiative when the state began revoking tax credits from contractors who employ illegal immigrants.

Riopedre emphasized that the Hispanic chamber does not support illegal immigration.

But he said the new law could foster an atmosphere of hostility toward Hispanic residents in the state. He is already fielding worried calls from the group's 102 members, which range from mom-and-pop stores to some of the area's biggest companies like Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Monsanto Co.

Blunt's directive will only impact contractors who receive state tax credits or other financial incentives.

Those contractors must already provide paperwork ensuring their workers are employed legally. But now, the Missouri economic development department will randomly audit that paperwork and perform surprise visits to work sites to ensure all employees have proper documentation.

On the law enforcement side, Blunt is seeking to give state authorities the power to enforce immigration law, which is currently the sole domain of federal agencies.

That directive could lead to litigation if residents are wrongfully detained, said Ricardo Meza, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"I think that it's unfortunate that the governor ... is trying to do the same thing that many local communities have tried to do around the country, which is take immigration reform into their own hands," Meza said. Many of those efforts have gotten tied up in court.

Patrol spokesman Capt. Tim Hull said 25 state law enforcement agents will get training from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that will essentially deputize the state agents as federal immigration officers.

Twenty of the agents are from the patrol, while four are from the Missouri Water Patrol and one is from the Capitol Police.

Currently, patrol agents can only check the ICE databases to see if someone they arrest is an illegal immigrant, Hull said. If that's the case, one of the state's 48 ICE agents must get custody of the suspect and present them to a judge for a deportation hearing, Hull said.

After they are trained, patrol agents will be able to present the suspect to a judge for deportation themselves, Hull said.

Patrol agents helped arrest two men Tuesday night for assault in Camden County, according to a statement from Blunt's office.

After accessing the ICE database, agents determined that Jose Delacruz of Mexico was an illegal immigrant, and he is in custody and awaiting deportation, according to the statement.