Illegal Immigration Problems Not As Acute In The Rim Country

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Northern Gila County and Payson do not have as many problems with illegal immigration as other parts of the state because Payson is further from the Mexican border than more densely populated communities like Phoenix and Tucson, said Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.

Additionally, more densely populated communities closer to the Mexican border also offer illegal immigrants better job opportunities and more anonymity, she said.

Flores said a lot of Arizona's illegal immigrants find it easier to stay in touch with relatives and contacts still in Mexico and other Latin-American countries by living and working in U.S. communities closer to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Of the nation's estimated 13 million Hispanics and Latinos, 1.3 million are estimated to live in Arizona.

About 8,546 reside in Gila County and about 708 in Payson, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site.

Of the 1.3 million Hispanic and Latino residents in Arizona, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates about 500,000 of them to be illegal immigrants.

Estimates on how many undocumented immigrants live in the Payson area were not available, but if it is about the same percentage as the state, around 40 percent, or about 280 would be a fair estimate.

"Some of these people are supporting families back in their home countries," said Flores.

"They either send money or take it themselves and being closer to the border is more convenient for them."

Additionally, illegal immigrants can more readily find work in more densely populated communities, said Flores.

While Rim Country may not have as many illegal immigrants as other parts of Gila County, there are still problems, she said.

During a meeting at the Payson library focused on illegal immigration in Gila County and Rim Country, Flores said crime and employment were chief issues in regards to illegal immigration in northern Gila County.

"I'm sure you have all noticed that there is an illegal immigrant population in Payson and Star Valley," said Flores. "And those people have to work somewhere to support themselves."

She said the end result is often a loss of available jobs for legal residents.

However, those jobs typically pay at or near minimum wage, which is why employers hire illegal immigrants who accept lower pay and few, if any, benefits.

Flores said that although Payson requires employers to verify prospective workers' employment status and imposes sanctions that can include loss of a business license, it is often difficult to verify legal status.

"Some of them (illegal immigrants) use false identification or someone else's I.D. who is a legal resident," she said.

She said it is not uncommon for illegal immigrant parents to use the legal status of their children born in the U.S. to gain legitimacy and the right to work.

The U.S. Constitution provides that anyone born within the United States, regardless of parental citizenship, is automatically a U.S. citizen.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are currently arguing about proposed legislation to end that birthright.

Additionally state laws concerning job verification will supercede Payson's, said Flores.

So for all intents and purposes, Payson's employer sanctions law is now null and void in the face of the state's employer sanction law that became effective on Jan. 1.

Most of the other questions asked of Flores from residents attending the meeting were about crime and illegal immigration.

Flores said illegal immigrant populations include criminal elements, but there is also the issue of crimes against illegal immigrants.

Flores said when illegal immigrants find themselves the victim of a crime, they are often reluctant to go to police for fear of being discovered and deported.

As a result, perpetrators of those crimes typically go unpunished and continue to prey on other victims.

She said Gila County's policy is to provide law enforcement services and investigate any crime against anyone, regardless of legal status.

Jose Cortez with respectrespeto.org said that a lot of illegal immigrants are unaware that they are protected under the law regardless of legal status.

"The law provides that anyone who is the victim of a crime can file a complaint with authorities," said Cortez.

Flores said illegal immigration is a national problem that hits border-states like Arizona, but it will not to be solved any time soon.

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