Politics

Arizona Dem Reaffirms Charge That Feds Moved Conferences to Protest State's Immigration Law

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told Fox News on Saturday that she has information that the Department of Education and the U.S. Border Patrol canceled scheduled meetings in Arizona over the state's tough new immigration law, June 26, 2010. (FNC)

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told Fox News on Saturday that she has information that the Department of Education and the U.S. Border Patrol canceled scheduled meetings in Arizona over the state's tough new immigration law, June 26, 2010. (FNC)

An Arizona congresswoman refused to back down from her allegations that two federal agencies moved their conferences from the state to boycott its new law cracking down on illegal immigrants despite the agencies' denial.

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told Fox News on Saturday that she has information that the Department of Education and the U.S. Border Patrol canceled scheduled meetings in Arizona over the state's tough new law that has prompted at least two dozen cities or government agencies across the nation, including Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle, to pass resolutions to boycott the state or curtail economic activity.

"We have the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education that had planned for meetings, had then canceled those meetings with the reason given that it was because of the immigration law," she said on Saturday, repeating a charge she first leveled earlier in the week.

But the Customs and Border Protection, the agency above the Border Patrol, has denied canceling any conferences in Arizona.

"We conducted a thorough review across our organization to ensure this is, in fact, the case," the statement said. "The agency has reached out to Rep. Giffords' office to clear up any misunderstanding."

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The Education Department acknowledged moving a joint event held with Mexican and Canadian partners in a student exchange program.

But Assistant Education Secretary Peter Cunningham said in a statement that it did so because the Mexicans, an equal partner in the program, asked that it be moved. Each agency pays for its part of the joint North American Mobility Program.

"The Department of Education will continue to hold conferences in the state of Arizona, including one next week."

On Saturday, Giffords said she has been working with the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, which she says has confirmed the cancellations by the federal agencies, ever since the law was passed to prevent a boycott.

"I've been reaching out to to cities, to states, and even the federal government, any organization that's talking about a boycott or boycotting the state of Arizona and reaching out to them and saying, 'look, a boycott is ill-conceived,'" she said. "It's counterproductive. It really hurts the very people that many of these groups espouse that they want to protect." 

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the new law in April and it takes effect on July 29 unless blocked by a court.

The law requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they're in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally or to impede traffic while hiring day laborers, regardless of the worker's immigration status. It would become a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work.

The Obama administration is planning to file suit against the Arizona law, citing its sustained concern about the move to subject some residents to routine checks on their immigration status. 

But Giffords said Saturday that the federal government should focus on solving the "bigger problem."

"The bigger problem is the federal government has not secured the southern Arizona border," she said, noting that in her district of Tucson, more than 240,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended last year, down from more than 500,000 in 2005.

"There's so much frustration in the state that led to a divisive bill," she said. "I want the federal government to focus on solving the problem."