Daniel Ortega Jr. felt outnumbered.
He was the only Hispanic on a panel discussing the role of law enforcement in illegal immigration.
And nearly every time he spoke, there were groans from the overwhelmingly white audience gathered Friday at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center.
Ortega, who is a prominent Valley attorney, disagreed with the three other panelists who said local law enforcement should expand its effort to curb illegal immigration. He said that would increase the possibility of racial profiling.
"I don’t want to be subjected to another law that subjects me to more questions because I am brown," Ortega said.
Friday’s discussion was part of the three-day Southwest Conference on Illegal Immigration Border Security and Crime sponsored by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Representatives for the county attorney said they attempted to have a more balanced panel, but several Hispanic and civil rights organizations declined to attend.
Also on the panel were Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, former Chandler Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris and attorney Kris Kobach, who was counsel to the former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
They all agreed that local authorities have power and need to crack down on illegal immigration.
"For 25 years the federal government has failed to control immigration, and for 25 years local politicians have pointed their fingers at others for the responsibility," said Pearce, an outspoken critic of the nation’s immigration policy.
Over the past couple of years, Pearce has become a nationally known personality on the issue, regularly appearing on cable news shows such as CNN’s "Lou Dobbs Tonight."
In a stark contrast to Ortega, the audience applauded several times after Pearce spoke during the 2 1/2-hour discussion.
The reaction from the crowd underscores how emotional the debate over immigration has become as local and national leaders look for solutions — from issuing work visas to building a concrete barrier along the border.
Harris, who was police chief during the controversial Chandler roundup of illegal immigrants in 1997, said local law enforcement should take a more aggressive role in enforcing immigration laws.
He said there is an attitude among police agencies that it is not their job to enforce federal laws. Still, many agencies want to avoid being tagged as a racist organization and don’t go after illegal immigrants, he said.