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Arizona justice: Shawna Forde death sentence a rebuke to border vigilantes

An Arizona jury on Tuesday handed down a death sentence for Shawna Forde, leader of Minutemen American Defense. She was convicted in the killings of two border residents in 2009 – a case Latinos say should have prompted greater outcry from political leaders.

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To some here, the lack of public attention to the double slaying has left a bitter taste. When rancher Robert Krentz was killed in Cochise County last March, politicians quickly demanded increased border security, says Carlos Galindo, a community activist and radio talk-show host in Phoenix, who followed the Forde murder trial closely.

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“We have failed leadership: They won’t speak up, they’re silent,” Mr. Galindo says. “To not say that it’s tragic for a child to die – that leaves it as acceptable to continue harming immigrants or Hispanics here in Arizona.”

The Krentz murder, which remains unsolved, has been largely blamed on an unknown illegal immigrant. A month later, Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law to clamp down on people living in the state without legal status. A federal judge put on hold key provisions of the law, and it remains in legal limbo.

Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, a human rights group, concurs with Galindo. “We didn’t see a commensurate response after the shooting of Brisenia and her father, calling for zero tolerance of hate crimes or anti-Latino violence or zero tolerance for anti-immigrant groups.”

But even amid Arizona’s heated climate over illegal immigration, shootings like the one that took the lives of father and daughter are relatively uncommon, Ms. Allen says.

“Tragically, more common is the complacency on the part of government officials to attack it at its heart and call it for what it is: that it’s hate crimes,” she says. “These are anti-immigrant groups that have violent undertones and overtones.”

William Simmons, a border expert and political scientist at Arizona State University, views the Forde case as an exception – one of someone on the fringes. Forde’s group is an offshoot of the Minutemen movement launched in Arizona.

“These fringe elements get in the way of having civil dialogue about these issues,” he says.

Forde’s codefendants, alleged gunman Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola, are expected to go to trial later this year. They also face the death penalty.

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