A group of local, state and federal politicians demanded an apology from Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for statements regarding schools checking the citizenship of students.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva was among the politicians – all Democrats – to sign a letter criticizing Dupnik’s statements.
“It is wrong to force teachers and school administrators to become immigration officers,” the letter said.
Dupnik, a Democrat, said at a news conference last week that 40 percent of the students in the Sunnyside Unified School District were in the country illegally and that the South, Southwest and West sides had high crime rates linked to illegal immigration.
“These false charges are inflammatory and prejudicial,” the letter stated. “Your comments only further divide our community and debase a large part of the population.
“The Pima County electorate trusted you to protect and serve our community, not to humiliate and instill fear,” the letter said. “Every child is entitled to an education regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and status.”
Dupnik called last week’s conference to clarify comments he made during a hearing on border violence held by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month.
Dupnik, who could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, stressed last week that his statements were his opinion only. He said he knew they would be “divisive.”
He suggested that a Supreme Court ruling that forbid schools from checking the citizenship of students should be challenged, saying that it would heighten border security if the ruling was overturned.
Adelita Grijalva, a Tucson Unified School District board member, said, “I think the comments he made were simply wrong, inflammatory and egregious.
“We talk about (Maricopa County) Sheriff Joe Arpaio and say that we’re happy we don’t have a sheriff like that,” she said. “If this is the way (Sheriff Dupnik) felt, I wish he would have made those statements a year ago when he was running for re-election, and then we could have decided if that’s the type of person we wanted for sheriff.”
Grijalva said she was eager to hear Dupnik’s response because she thought his statements were “really out of character from (the) whole time he has been sheriff. I’m still unclear what the motive was.”
When he said Sunnyside had about 40 percent illegal immigrants, “how would he even know that? Sunnyside doesn’t know because it doesn’t ask.”
Eva Dong, a Sunnyside Unified School District board member for more than 10 years, said she signed the letter because she was shocked and disappointed with Dupnik’s comments.
She said she didn’t like Dupnik putting Sunnyside into a position of law enforcement against immigrants, which, she added, is against the law.
“And I’d like to know the ‘credible’ source he has that said that 40 percent of Sunnyside students are illegal immigrants,” she said.
“The large majority of our community is not involved in crime. I was in shock when I heard the things he said. That he would lump us into a category of high crime is not right,” she said.
“We’ve worked hard this year to try to remove those images. We have businesses and the university working with us to be successful,” Dong said. “You work at it and work at it and work at it, and bang, someone comes and shoots you down. It’s just very hurtful.”
Dong, who works at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center in the CAPE program, which educates children incarcerated there, also took offense at Dupnik equating illegal immigrants with crime.
Even at the center, “the majority of kids there are not illegal immigrants,” she said. “They are very, very few.”
Elected officials who signed the letter to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik
Richard Elías, chairman of the Board of Supervisors
Regina Romero, Tucson Ward 1 Councilwoman
Adelita Grijalva, board member of the Tucson Unified School District
Eva Dong, board member for the Sunnyside Unified School District
State Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson
State Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson
State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson
State Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia, D-Tucson
State Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson
State Rep. Phil Lopes, D-Tucson
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.
By Mary Bustamante, Eric Sagara