PHOENIX The Mexican government has opened a special call center in Arizona to provide a sympathetic ear for citizens caught up in crackdown on illegal immigration in the desert state.
Officials at the Mexican consulate in Tucson said they opened the center last week. It is available 24-hours-a-day to field complaints from Mexican nationals about their treatment in the border state, where as many as half a million illegal immigrants live and work in the shadows.
"We want to offer a human voice at the other end of the line, so they can feel protected and know that someone is here for them," Alejandro Ramos, head of the consulate's Department of Protection, told Reuters.
Feelings run high about illegal immigration in the United States, where an estimated 12 million undocumented workers and their children hide from authorities.
After the U.S. government failed to pass legislation overhauling immigration laws last year, many U.S. states and some local authorities have acted to clamp down on illegal immigrants, including Arizona, which passed a law to block the hiring of illegal workers.
Ramos said that these and other anti-immigrant measures are responsible for a hike in the number of calls to the five Arizona consulates. A combined 2,400 calls are logged each week.
"We're getting more and more calls from people requiring our services," Ramos said. "One of the factors is that, in a way, life has become harsher for them in the state of Arizona."
Ramos said the call center idea stemmed from a new initiative issued last year by Mexico President Felipe Calderon to improve communications with Mexicans living outside the country.
The line was greeted with skepticism by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who launched his own efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants in the Phoenix area, roughly 200 miles from the border, with highly publicized raids.
"I hope that if someone calls in and is in violation of the law that they would pass it along to me," Arpaio said. "I hope they tip me off, so I can do my job."
(Reporting by David Schwartz; editing by Tim Gaynor and Anthony Boadle)