... ily12.html

Latino groups worry state investigations will hurt legitimate businesses
The Business Journal of Phoenix - 4:04 PM MST Mondayby Mike SunnucksThe Business Journal

Some Latino groups worry recent actions by the state government -- including Gov. Janet Napolitano -- are targeting Hispanic consumers and businesses located in Mexican neighborhoods.

The concerns come on the heels of a $3 million fine paid to the state by Western Union Financial Services Inc. Napolitano and the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions announced the settlement in late August.

Western Union agreed to pay the state government the $3 million in response to state complaints about lax record keeping and some company agents that may be sending wire transfers to foreign countries related to illegal immigration and money laundering.

Arizona is a top entry point into the U.S. for illegal immigrants, human smugglers, Mexican drug cartels and crystal meth rings. Money transfers are a common way of getting money between the U.S. and foreign markets such as Mexico.

Western Union also agreed to terminate relations with some Arizona agents as part of the deal with the state.

Napolitano said the agreement will help combat money laundering and the bankrolling of illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The governor said curtailing the flow of money into these criminal organizations is key to fighting them in Arizona.

Two Hispanic groups -- the Washington D.C.-based Latino Coalition and Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund -- want to make sure state investigations into money transfers and criminal activities do not unfairly target legitimate businesses and legal transactions from Latino neighborhoods.

MALDEF general counsel and interim president John Trasvina wants to meet with Arizona officials -- including state Attorney General Terry Goddard -- to make sure investigations and laws are being fairly enforced.

Trasvina said he wants to make sure legitimate commerce from U.S. citizens and legal immigrants is not caught up in government efforts against the drug trade and illegal immigrants. MALDEF wants to make sure Arizona and other state's have mechanisms in place to protect legal commerce.

The Latino Coalition -- which has Hispanic business executives on its board -- agrees.

"While we believe in fully complying with the law, as does Western Union, we are concerned that legal Latino citizens and workers are being singled out as potential criminals," said Latino Coalition president Robert Deposada.

Deposada wants to make sure enforcement of wire transfer rules are carried out in a fair and unbiased manner.

The governor has taken a tougher tact on immigration this year. She's called for sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants; sent National Guard troops to the Mexican border to support federal agencies and backs a border security plan put forward by President Bush earlier this year.

Napolitano and Goddard, both Democrats, face challenges this November from Republicans who fault the two incumbents for not being tough enough on the border and illegal immigration. East Valley attorney Bill Montgomery is challenging Goddard. Republicans pick a gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday with Len Munsil and Don Goldwater as leading contenders.