Muzzle Puzzle

Why did City Hall keep a new police policy toward illegals quiet until after the election?

"The situation exists where undocumented aliens register to vote and they do vote. (Emphasis his.) We have illegal voters impacting the determination of our city leaders! It's time that Phoenix take the bull by the horns and send the message that undocumented aliens have no place here!"

So, no, I don't think Councilman Exclamation Point! was about to use the new policy as a campaign opportunity, except perhaps to come out strongly against it and rouse the gringo ignorante vote, which he had already. So why bother?

Here's a more likely scenario:

Phoenix attorney and Hispanic Citizens Advisory Committee member Francisco Gutierrez.
Paolo Vescia
Phoenix attorney and Hispanic Citizens Advisory Committee member Francisco Gutierrez.

Mayor Rimsza took a look at the timing of an effort to publicize a controversial policy on illegal immigration, saw that it could become a nasty campaign issue in any of the September races, and particularly in the District 7 contest, so he called Hurtt and told him to hold off until after the elections. That's Skip's style. He likes to keep the vibe all smiles and sun rays. Illegal immigration is a cloudy issue, and it makes people frown. If keeping the policy from going public helped Lingner defeat Lopez in a November 2 run-off election (which he did, earning a second four-year term), it may have been less Rimsza's main intent than a secondary effect.

But the elections are over now. The Police Department's new policy has been in effect on paper since May. And the new policy is grossly ineffective unless the legions of illegal aliens in Phoenix know of its existence.

As it stands, more journalists, cops and politicians know of the policy than illegal aliens. That's been the case since early November, when an anonymous e-mail written by sometime journalist Ruben Hernandez began to make the rounds. Hernandez once worked at New Times.

In the e-mail, Hernandez alleges the following: that he applied for a columnist's job at the Arizona Republic, and wrote a tryout column outlining the anger of HCAC members over a conspiracy inside city hall to delay the announcement of the new police policy. Hernandez postulated that the delay was designed to help Doug Lingner win re-election over Rosie Lopez. He claimed that Republic senior editor Kristin Gilger called him on October 13 and told him she had passed his sample column to Republic deputy managing editor Jeff Dozbaba; that Gilger called him back that same day and told him that "somehow" his unpublished column had gotten faxed to the mayor's office. The next day, he was told he didn't get the job.

I set up an interview with Hernandez, but then he blew me off, complaining in a voice mail that when he recently applied for a job at New Times, we blew him off, and that New Times is just as racist a newspaper as the Arizona Republic.

In any case, the day after the draft of Hernandez's column found its way to the mayor's office, the police department called a hasty press conference to which only Spanish-language media were invited. The Republic has yet to run a story on the new policy.

Asked why the press conference wasn't all-media, Halstead replied, "I don't think the people watching Channel 12 news are the ones who worry about the INS."

Probably not. But they may know someone who does. They may even, get this, employ them.

As a result of the press conference, the Spanish-language newspaper El Monitor ran a short piece on the policy, as did news programs on Telemundo and Univision.

HCAC members say that's not enough.

"I think they don't go full-scale because they don't want the controversy," says Leyba. "But we need full commitment from the city and the police department. We need full understanding of what we're talking about here. We're talking about kids in my school district who come to school frightened and abused because their mothers are abused, and the mothers are afraid to call anyone because they're afraid they will be deported. That's reality."

So's this: The new Phoenix P.D. policy on illegal immigrants is "new" primarily in name only. It clarifies and makes policy what has for years been the practice of Phoenix cops on the street, who don't bust illegals just for being illegals. That's the job of the INS (which I've noticed is a lot more keen on rounding and deporting illegal immigrants slinging tacos at Filiberto's than the ones slinging crack near the state capitol).

But this is also reality: Because of the way publicity of the new policy has been (mis)handled -- shuttered away during political season, then halfheartedly unveiled -- relations between the police and Phoenix's Hispanic community have soured again. And the promise of the policy itself remains unrealized. The city and the police should broadcast the message, loud and proud, that when it comes to crime witnesses and victims in Phoenix, the police policy is, "No papers, no problemo."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: dholthouse@newtimes.comBy David Holthouse

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