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Chief Villaseñor discusses President's forum on immigration reform

Chief Villaseñor discusses President's forum on immigration reform

CREATED Apr 23, 2011

Reporter: Claire Doan
Web Producer: Ina Ronquillo

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – On the eve of the one-year anniversary of SB 1070: A local opponent of the law discussed his participation in a nationwide immigration reform effort.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor was among a select group of civic leaders, including nine other police chiefs and sheriffs from around the nation, who met with President Barack Obama earlier this week to discuss immigration reform.

"I think the role of this group was perceived as taking the conversation out into the nation, speaking about it and getting the conversation going," Villaseñor said in a press conference. "SB 1070 never really came up. It was much more of a broader platform – just the scope of immigration reform in totality."

Villaseñor said the "flavor" of the group was mostly pro-immigration, but the President emphasized a reasonable, bipartisan approach.

"I felt the part that was most telling was where he made the statement that it can't be perceived that there are freebies. When you violate existing immigration law, the American people will not stand for that," Villaseñor said.

However, many groups like Border Action Network point out that the President's efforts come on the heels of his announcement for reelection. They expected him to tackle his reform early on in his presidency.

"First and foremost we need to see President Obama step up and bring some charges against people like Sheriff Arpaio who are trying to take immigration into their own hands. We need to see the Obama administration, the federal government, reclaim its jurisdiction over federal immigration enforcement," said Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network. "Those sorts of actions would convey to the community their genuine interest in trying to address the needs of this country as well as the needs of immigrant families."

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who was not invited to the meeting, said participants were selected to be an echo chamber for the President. The Sheriff believes enforcing current immigration laws should be priority, along with sending troops to the border.

"Noticeably absent was any sheriff from Arizona, or Governor Brewer, or Senator McCain. I believe that's absolutely important to have any meaningful dialogue or discussion, Babeu told KGUN9 News. "He's talking immigration reform and many of us fear that's a code word for outright amnesty and we're not going to be a part of that. Until this border is secure, we're not going to have this discussion."

In a statement Friday, Governor Jan Brewer said Arizona must keep the pressure on the federal government: "Arizona's actions and the subsequent national attention that resulted have helped pressure the White House to act on border security in ways it never would have otherwise."

"I think we need to secure the border, but I am just saying the federal government is responsible for securing that border, not the Tucson Police Department," Villaseñor said, adding that he and his department has and will enforce whatever version of SB 1070 is upheld by the courts.

 Villaseñor said the President plans to have an immigration reform policy in place within a year.