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Coconino, Santa Cruz counties join suit backing Obama’s immigration actions

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WASHINGTON – Coconino and Santa Cruz counties joined dozens of local governments on a court brief urging immediate implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration – orders Arizona is suing to block.

The brief said Obama’s move to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would help local economies by providing work authorization for millions of unauthorized immigrants and by increasing tax revenue. It would also allow families of unauthorized immigrants to stay together.

Expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA – a deferral program for parents of U.S.-born children – was blocked in February by a federal judge in Texas. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said there was sufficient merit to the argument raised by 26 states suing the federal government over immigration.

Arizona is one of the states in the lawsuit.

“I know the state of Arizona is opposing it,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said Tuesday. “But we need to start taking care of this. We need to have people come out of the darkness and into the light.”

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to sign the friend-of-the-court brief in hopes that the U.S. can “move forward to create responsible immigration policy,” Ruiz said.

A coalition called Cities United for Immigration Action said Monday that 73 city and county governments had signed on to the brief, ranging from Los Angeles to Schenectady, New York.

Santa Cruz County borders Mexico, and Ruiz said the board “felt strongly” that pursuing comprehensive immigration reform is “the right thing to do.”

Coconino County representatives said comprehensive immigration reform is something that the county has supported for years.

“When Congress failed to act on immigration reform, the county government must still act,” Coconino Supervisor Elizabeth Archuleta said. “We as county officials are focused on solving issues on the ground. We feel the impact.”

Coconino County Sheriff William Pribil said immigration reform would make the community safer because law enforcement officials would have a better idea of how much crime is being committed and how to stop it.

“For too long, we’ve allowed a shadow community to live within our own community,” Pribil said. “Because of their undocumented status, they are reluctant to report crimes as victims and as witnesses. It’s not good for public safety.”

Officials also said immigration reform would help boost the economy because immigrants who are now here illegally could participate fully in society.

“If students and people affected by this are able to get on a path to legalization, they can get work, they can contribute, they can pay taxes,” Ruiz said.

Officials in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on counties’ action.

According to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute, about 104,000 people in Arizona would be eligible for deportation deferral under the measures blocked in February. It estimated that Arizona has the ninth-highest number of immigrants eligible for DAPA and the eighth-highest number eligible under the DACA expansion.

“I see it every day,” Archuleta said. “My neighbor across the street brought her daughter to the U.S. 14 years ago. She’s going through the school system as a straight-A student, but she can’t take part fully in the community because of fear of deportation.”

Art Babbott, vice chair of the Coconino Board of Supervisors, said the makeup of the community means the county must back some kind of immigration reform.

“We have to support some movement because no movement hurts our families, hurts our economy, hurts our public safety. Gridlock can’t be supported,” Babbott said.