Nothing rattles a bunch of politicians like the ouster of one of their own. So a few months after Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce was booted from his Phoenix-area seat, his former colleagues introduced a bill that would tinker with the recall process.
An immigration hard-liner who wrote SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law, Pearce was defeated in November by Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican who advocated working alongside the federal government to curb illegal border crossings.
Pearce probably would have crushed Lewis in a primary, which tends to attract fewer and more politically fervent voters. “The ideologues all go to the polls and they elect ideologues -- the Russell Pearces of the world,” Arizona political scientist Bruce Merrill told The Times after the election.
But in a recall, Democrats and independents can weigh in, giving a boost to more moderate candidates. That’s why Pearce -- long considered Arizona's most powerful politician -- equated Lewis’ victory with “going through the backdoor.”
Under the bill, the recall process would shift substantially, the Arizona Republic reported. The legislation, which survived a state Senate committee vote this week, would add party primaries to recall elections.
If that system had been in place during the Pearce recall, only Republicans would have cast ballots in the GOP primary. And because there were only two candidates vying for the seat, no runoff would have been required.
Photo: GOP state Sen. Russell Pearce of Arizona, the force behind the state's controversial law targeting illegal immigrants, speaks at a news conference in November as results in the vote to recall him come in. Credit: Joshua Lott/Reuters
"This town sucks, and thank God I was not born here or raised here 'cause I would probably be dead by now."
That was the opening salvo from Sara Wells' roughly 8-minute video, "Why Sara hates Laredo," posted earlier this month on YouTube. The video, which appears to have been shot at home with Walls speaking directly to the camera, did not go unnoticed.
Walls, a Colorado native, explains at the start of the video that she moved to the Texas border city of about 230,000 people a year and a half ago, after her husband was transferred there for work. She then begins to rail against Laredo's Latino drivers, crime and life on the border.
"Half the people driving around have Mexican plates and don't know American laws," the young mother says. In the video, Walls wears a hoodie and dangling earrings -- her brown hair pulled back -- with what appears to be a wall of windows and family photos in the background.
Walls, who is white, says in the video that she's encountered "illegal Mexicans" in her backyard three times since moving to Laredo and that half the people in town don't speak English. She bases the statement, she says, on interactions she's had while driving to, among other places, Wal-Mart.
"The Mexican men here are disgusting," she says, and goes on to complain about being hit on. She also has a few things to say about Mexican moms covering their children's cavities with gold caps and feeding babies Pepsi. She even condemns menudo, a traditional Mexican soup, and the annual Laredo menudo festival.
"I have a list of bad stuff I hate about Laredo, that's how much I hate it," Walls says, glancing down to consult the list. "The whole town is really ghetto, sketchy, scary, unsafe."
"I pray to God that my husband can transfer out of here."
The video ends with Walls casually mentioning that she anticipates negative comments from "haters," but promising to read their comments nonetheless.
"I'm a white girl. How do they say it? They call me guera, gringo," she says. "I was never prejudiced against Mexicans until I moved to this town. So thank you, Laredo, for giving good Mexicans a bad name."
Walls grossly underestimated the potential effect of her video rant.
Overwhelmed by hundreds of negative comments and threats, she removed the video only to later see it posted again by critics, garnering more than 24,000 views and nearly 500 comments as of Friday. Viewers vented their anger on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, prompting a CNN ireport that fanned the flames.
"Get a life. Get a job and stop leeching off our Laredo economy and go back to Colorado," one critic wrote, adding, "By the way Colorado is a Spanish word that means red."
"I have blonde hair, green eyes and im not from here either but i love it here. This chick is stupid!" wrote another.
"Everyone should gather a ton of menudo and dump it on her garden at night," someone suggested.
Earlier this week, Walls' husband came forward to apologize on her behalf, but that failed to contain the controversy.
Michael Walls told Laredo's Pro8 News that his wife struggled with being away from her hometown and adjusting to a very different culture. After she posted the video, he said, he and his kids saw the community turn not just on her, but on them too.
"I'm just sincerely sorry and if there is anything I can do to make it right I mean I would but I didn't do it. So I'm apologizing for my family," Walls said on Monday. He added that the family has moved away from Laredo and has no plans to return.
The outraged included Laredo's mayor, who spoke out against the video the same days Walls' husband apologized.
"The city of Laredo has been offended," Mayor Raul G. Salinas told KGNS TV.
The mayor made a suggestion of what might help, besides apologizing: He invited Sara Walls to come see him at his office "to talk about the city of Laredo."
He said the video was "not fair to the people of Laredo" and claimed "the monster of racism has awoken."
"On YouTube, Facebook you can say whatever you want, but it does not give you the right to be destroying a great city and speaking ill of our culture and our people," he said, "Just because we happen to be bilingual is not a bad thing. It's a good thing."
The mayor went on to praise the local university and schools, tout the upcoming baseball stadium, golf course and the fact that local unemployment is at 7.2%.
"She's totally wrong," he said, "Laredo is numero uno."
The police chief of East Haven, Conn., where four officers were arrested last week and accused of violating the rights of Latinos, is resigning under pressure, as calls continued for the mayor who appointed him to step down as well.
Chief Len Gallo's resignation was announced Monday at a news conference, with Mayor Joseph Maturo saying he was putting together a search committee to find a replacement, the Hartford Courant reported.
Gallo's lawyer, Jonathan J. Einhorn, said Gallo decided to step down to avoid becoming a "distracting element" in East Haven's efforts to recover from the scandal. The issue has enveloped the city since the Department of Justice in 2009 began investigating allegations that the police force targeted Latinos for abuse.
That probe led last week to the arrests of four officers in connection with harassment and abuse of Latinos, federal officials said. Einhorn said Gallo also could be charged in the case. "He is not guilty of any wrongdoing. He should not be arrested; if arrested, he will be acquitted of any charges," the lawyer said.
Gallo and Maturo have been hammered by demands from the Latino community that they step down, and those calls reached a crescendo last week after Maturo cracked that he would show his support for the Latino community by going home and eating tacos. Maturo, who made the quip to a reporter, has since apologized for it -- but that hasn't lessened the cries for his resignation.
A Facebook page calling for his ouster has 1,106 "likes." A petition launched on Change.org calling for Gallo's ouster had more than 15,000 signers by Monday morning.
New Mexico has been torn for some time as to whether undocumented immigrants should continue to be eligible for driver’s licenses. The state is one of two that allow it; Washington is the other.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who was not in office when the legislation passed, says it encourages fraud. Her argument got some fuel this week from an Associated Press investigation showing that state driver’s license data pointed to possible abuse.
People without Social Security numbers who apply for New Mexico licenses must show multiple identifying documents and prove they live in the state. When the AP analyzed years of license data, the news service found dozens of addresses where fraud may have occurred.
For example, over a five-year period, 48 foreign nationals applying for licenses said they lived at an Albuquerque smoke shop. Seventeen people during a nine-month period said they lived at a car repair business. (It’s unclear whether the applicants were in the country illegally; the state does not ask about immigration status.)
The law’s supporters told the AP that the state could prevent abuse without stripping people of licenses they need to register their cars and get insurance.
A spokesman for Martinez, a former prosecutor, countered that the investigation was “yet another sign of how New Mexico's driver's license has been compromised.”
When state lawmakers took up the issue Thursday, Martinez’s proposal to repeal the license law got a rocky reception, the AP said. A legislative committee instead approved a Democratic plan to keep the licenses while imposing new restrictions.
Photo: The group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, or "We Are a United People," protests Thursday in Santa Fe, N.M., against a proposed repeal of a law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. Credit: J.R.Oppenheim/Associated Press
The 15-year-old girl was the last person off the plane Friday evening, according to CNN's Jason Morris, who was on the flight.
Upon her arrival at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Jakadrien Lorece Turner was flanked by her mother, grandmother and law enforcement officers, according to the Associated Press.
"She's happy to be home," the family's attorney, Ray Jackson, told the AP, adding that the family would not be issuing any statements Friday night.
Jackson's staff did not return phone calls or email late Friday seeking further comment.
He told the AP that Jakadrien's family was "ecstatic" to have her back in Texas and they planned to "do what we can to make sure she gets back to a normal life."
Jakadrien's family has said she ran away in November 2010 and was arrested by Houston police on April 2, 2011, on suspicion of misdemeanor theft. At the time, she claimed to be Tika Lanay Cortez, a Colombian woman born in 1990--an identity that immigration officials now say was fabricated.
Houston police said in a statement that after a database showed she was not wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she was turned over to the Harris County jail and booked on the theft charge.
An ICE official told The Times that the teen claimed to be Cortez throughout the criminal proceedings in Houston and the ensuing deportation, in which an immigration judge ultimately ordered her back to Colombia. Officials at the Colombian Consulate in Houston interviewed her and issued her deportation documents, the ICE official said. It was unclear how that happened. Consulate officials did not return calls late Friday.
Officials at Colombia's Foreign Ministry have said they are investigating what sort of verification its consulate in Texas requested before giving the girl an expedited provisional passport as part of deportation proceedings, and how she was approved for training at a call center as part of the government's "Welcome Home" program.
Attorneys with the program made a sworn declaration in front of a notary pointing to "inexact information" that allowed her to receive work papers, the Foreign Ministry said.
"Those lawyers are no longer providing services to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the ministry said in a statement.
Jackson, the family's Dallas-based attorney, told CNN on Friday that they believe the girl's civil rights were violated when authorities allowed her to be deported.
Photo: Jakadrien Lorece Turner, 15, center, walks with her grandmother Lorene Turner, left, and mother Johnisa Turner, right, at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Friday night. Credit: Mike Fuentes/Associated Press
A 15-year-old Texas girl deported to Colombia in May after reportedly concocting a fake identity was headed back to the United States on Friday -- with her family anxiously awaiting her arrival, according to staff at her family's lawyer's office in Dallas.
Jakadrien Lorece Turner left Colombia on Friday and was on a flight to Dallas expected to arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport about 7 p.m., according to staff at the office of Dallas lawyer Ray Jackson.
Office staff were in contact with the girl through the U.S. Embassy in Bogota early Friday, and learned she was eager to reunite with her family.
The feeling is mutual, according to Jackson's staff.
"They just want to hold her," paralegal Crystal Cienfuegos said.
The girl's mother, Johnisa Turner, told the Associated Press she'll be meeting her daughter when she arrives in Dallas and said she has "a gazillion questions" for Jakadrien.
"I am very excited," Turner told the Associated Press. "I feel like a weight has been lifted. But at the same time, I won't just feel really, really good until I'm able to touch her."
Jakadrien's family has questioned why U.S. officials didn't do more to verify her identity, but U.S. immigration officials insist there was no sign the girl wasn't a Colombian woman who had immigrated illegally.
The teen ran away from home more than a year ago. When she was arrested in Houston on April 2, 2011, in connection with a misdemeanor theft, she reportedly claimed to be Tika Lanay Cortez, a Colombian woman born in 1990 -- an identity that turned out to be fabricated.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told The Times that the teen claimed to be Cortez throughout the criminal proceedings in Houston and the ensuing deportation process in which an immigration judge ultimately ordered her back to Colombia.
"Never during that criminal proceeding did she purport to be someone else, or say she was a U.S. citizen," said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman. "There was nothing to invalidate her claim. This is someone who’s under oath in a criminal proceeding. The criminal justice system did not know she was a minor."
Gonzalez noted that a Colombian consular official interviewed Jakadrien and issued her travel documents before she was deported.
"The U.S. cannot deport someone without a country issuing travel documents,” Gonzalez said.
The Colombian consulate in Houston did not return calls about the case Friday.
Gonzalez said ICE worked with the U.S. State Department to facilitate Jakadrien's return home.
It was not clear if the teen might be charged upon her return in connection with falsifying identity in a criminal process.
Photo: Jakadrien Lorece Turner, a Texas teen who ran away more than a year ago, posed as a Colombian illegal immigrant and was deported. She was located in Bogota last month by Dallas police, with help from Colombian and U.S. officials, and due home late Friday. Credit: WFAA-TV/Associated Press.
A 15-year-old Texas girl who claimed to be an illegal immigrant and was deported to Colombia will be returning home to the United States on Friday, according to federal immigration officials.
U.S. Immigration officials said they were investigating the case of Jakadrien Lorece Turner, who ran away from her Texas home more than a year ago -- and was deported to Bogota. Turner was recently found there by Dallas police with the help of Colombian and U.S. investigators.
Turner was to leave Bogota on Friday and fly home. No other details were immediately available, according to an official from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“ICE is facilitating her return to the United States in coordination with the U.S. Department of State and local authorities,” Barbara Gonzalez, media secretary for the immigration agency said in a telephone interview from Washington. She gave no other details.
The Turner case has ignited a furor over how a 15-year-old could be deported, even if she claimed a false identity. In media interviews, her relatives have said that officials should have done more to make sure of the identity.
Her family has said that Turner left home in November 2010. Houston police have said she was arrested for misdemeanor theft and claimed to be a Colombian national.
ICE said it has confirmed those facts, but insists it followed procedure in such cases.
“Preliminary information suggests that after being arrested on state charges for theft by the Houston Police Department, the minor provided a false identity, representing that she was an adult from Colombia with no legal status in the U.S.,” according to an ICE statement of the case. “She maintained this false identity throughout her local criminal proceedings in Texas where she was represented by a defense attorney and ultimately convicted by the State criminal court.
“At no time during these criminal proceedings was her identity determined to be false,” ICE notes.
“Upon her conviction, she was referred to ICE where she continued to maintain a false identity during immigration court proceedings. As is standard protocol, criminal database searches and biometric verification were conducted and revealed no information to invalidate her claims. She was ultimately ordered removed from the U.S. by a Department of Justice immigration judge.”
After arriving in Colombia, the girl was given Colombian citizenship, according to ICE.
According to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the girl was enrolled in the country's “Welcome Home” program after she arrived there. She was given shelter, psychological assistance and a job at a call center, the agency said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.
When the Colombian government discovered she was a U.S. citizen, it put her under the care of a welfare program, the statement said.
Photo: Jakadrien Lorece Turner ran away more than a year ago, her family said. Immigration officials say they're investigating the circumstances under which Turner was deported to Colombia after providing a false identity. Credit: Associated Press / WFAA-TV
It’s nothing new for politicians to jab at their rivals’ (lack of) credentials. But their English proficiency?
Welcome to San Luis, Ariz.
The City Council recently asked for verification that activist and council candidate Alejandrina Cabrera could speak, read and write in English, as state law requires of public officials. The action was in response to allegations by Guillermina Fuentes, a former mayor of the fast-growing border city, the Yuma Sun reported.
“I interpreted everything to Alejandrina because in many cases she did not understand what was being said,” Fuentes told the paper, which could not reach Cabrera for comment.
The council’s action could mean that the city hires someone to test Cabrera’s English fluency. In San Luis, nearly all 25,000 residents are Latino and about 88% speak a language other than English at home, according to Census Bureau data.
Cabrera is one of 10 council candidates running in the city’s March primary, the Sun said. She is considered something of a rabble-rouser, having spearheaded two failed recall attempts against the current mayor of San Luis, Juan Carlos Escamilla.
Escamilla voted in favor of testing Cabrera’s grasp of English, TV station KSWT reported. "I feel I don't dominate 100%,” he said of his English skills, “but I can still get by, I can write, read and understand it very well.”
Photo: The desert sand east of San Luis, Ariz., is imprinted with Border Patrol tracks in this 2007 photo. Officials in the border city have recently sparred over a council candidate's English skills. Credit: Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times
Joe Arpaio, criticized by the U.S. Department of Justice for what it called discrimination against Latinos, said Thursday that he would seek a sixth term as sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.
Arpaio, who has built a national reputation in conservative circles for his hard-line attitude to illegal immigration, announced his intention to run for reelection in news releases sent to local media.
“It is an honor and a privilege to serve as sheriff of Maricopa County. I am running for a sixth term and will continue to protect the citizens of Maricopa County by enforcing all the laws,” Arpaio said in the widely reported statement.
The sheriff also announced his plans Thursday afternoon in an appearance on Fox News. Arpaio has often appeared on the network discussing immigration issues.
“For all those critics that demonstrate in front of my office for three years, calling me every name in the book, I’m going to announce right now on your show, on your show, that I’m running again for sheriff, for my sixth four-year term,” Arpaio said. “So maybe they’re going to have a bad day, all these critics against me.”
Last month, the Justice Department announced the results of a three-year probe of Arpaio's department, charging that it had engaged in a wide range of civil rights violations, including mistreatment of Latinos and racial profiling.
Arpaio, a Republican, has rejected calls that he should resign and has denied the charges. He has called on the federal government to provide evidence of its findings.
His reelection bid had been widely expected.
Arpaio is likely to face Mike Stauffer, a 20-year veteran of the Scottsdale Police Department who announced in October that he would run against Arpaio as an independent.
Federal immigration officials Thursday announced the creation of a telephone hotline to ensure that detainees held by local police are informed of their rights.
The toll-free number, (855) 448-6903, will field queries from detainees held by state or local law enforcement agencies if the detainees "believe they may be U.S. citizens or victims of a crime," the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a statement.
An ICE official in Washington said agency representatives had not been authorized to comment about the hotline but that more information soon would be posted online.
The hotline will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by ICE personnel, according to the statement, with interpreters available in several languages.
"ICE personnel will collect information from the individual and refer it to the relevant ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations field office for immediate action," the statement said.
As part of the new initiative, ICE officials plan to issue a form to all detainees informing them that ICE will assume their custody within 48 hours, according to the statement. The form will be available in English as well as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Vietnamese, the statement said. ICE posted a sample copy of the form online Thursday.
"It also advises individuals that if ICE does not take them into custody within the 48 hours, they should contact the [law enforcement agency] or entity that is holding them to inquire about their release from state or local custody," the statement said.
The hotline comes amid controversy over local law enforcement agencies’ ability to detain people they believe to be illegal immigrants.
Scores of local law enforcement agencies partner with the federal government under the 287(g) program, established in 1996, which deputizes police to turn over suspects or criminals to immigration authorities for possible deportation. Normally, police do not enforce federal law.
ICE has 287(g) agreements with 69 law enforcement agencies in 24 states, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Since January 2006, the program is credited with identifying more than 217,300 potentially removable illegal immigrants, mostly at local jails, according to ICE records. Also under the program, ICE has trained and certified more than 1,500 state and local officials to enforce immigration law, the agency says.
Immigrant rights groups say the program has led to civil rights violations and racial profiling, and such authority has been especially controversial in Arizona. There, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been criticized for what many people call mistreatment of suspected illegal immigrants.
This month, the Justice Department announced it was suspending its 287(g) agreement with Arpaio and his deputies after an investigation found they had pursued a campaign of racial profiling against Latinos, making unlawful arrests and violating civil rights laws in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration.
Separately, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, ended the Maricopa County jail officers' authority to detain people on immigration charges, barring them from holding immigration violators who have not been charged with local crimes.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the new hotline “a positive development,” but said it was “overdue” and “inadequate.”
“Often people who are subject to ICE detainers have no idea why they are being held,” said Saenz, who is based at the national Latino civil rights group’s Los Angeles headquarters. “This kind of step should have been in place the very first time ICE undertook an expansion of its detainers.”
“ICE needs to focus on fixing the problems up front,” Saenz added, avoiding unconstitutional arrests and monitoring local law enforcement agencies it partners with rather than relying on detainees to report abuses.
“It relies on the individuals being detained to have the courage, knowledge and wherewithal to make a call to the hotline and follow up. They may feel intimidated or unable to adequately navigate their case,” Saenz said.
Photo: In this February 2009 file photo, about 200 illegal immigrants are handcuffed and moved within Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "Tent City" in Phoenix for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press.