Denver school district bans work travel to Arizona

By Catherine Tsai
Associated Press Writer / April 29, 2010

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DENVER—The head of Denver's public schools announced a ban Thursday on employees taking district-sponsored work trips to Arizona, saying the community was "outraged" by the state's new immigration law.

Part of the Arizona law set to take effect this summer would require officers making law-enforcement stops to ask about immigration status if there's reason to suspect a person is in the country illegally.

"We fear this new law will encourage racial profiling and subject individuals to arbitrary stops and harassment based on ethnic or racial status," Superintendent Tom Boasberg said.

State Senate Republicans released a statement from Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, criticizing the ban.

"Instead of imposing politically motivated travels bans, perhaps Mr. Boasberg ought to focus on improving a school system that fails far too many kids each and every day," Penry said.

Penry and school district officials alike spoke of the need to address greater immigration issues.

Boasberg said the Arizona law attacks the district's core values, which recognize diversity, and is an assault on human dignity.

Roughly 80 percent of the district's students are minorities, and about 40 percent speak a language other than English at home, district Board of Education President Nate Easley said.

Boasberg has formed an advisory committee to see if the district should take other measures to respond to Arizona's law and to make sure a similar law is not enacted in Colorado.

The district didn't immediately have totals of how many trips employees typically take to Arizona, but Boasberg said Colorado's neighbor state hosts educational conferences.

All district employees are in the country legally, Boasberg said, but officials don't want them to subjected to potentially discriminatory stops or harassment.

"This is a human rights issue. As an American, I am offended that a state would take such action," Easley said. "As an African American, I am especially offended."

He said the district could be a leader in responding to the new law.

Boasberg said students, parents, teachers, community members and principals have expressed "deep and intense concern" at Arizona's law. Some students have discussed walkouts, which school board members discourage.

"The only way to get people's attention who pass legislation that violates not only human rights but the Constitution is to hit them in their pocketbooks," said former state Sen. Paul Sandoval, one of the leaders of Boasberg's new advisory committee.

Immigrant rights activists have called for boycotts of Arizona, and at least two lawsuits are challenging the law. The San Francisco city attorney's office was investigating whether there were penalties for severing city contracts with Arizona.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who opposed the Arizona law, has said boycotts could hurt immigrants and residents whose jobs depend on the revenue.

The Arizona Office of Tourism declined to comment.