Pearce refutes NPR report tying SB 1070 to private prison industry - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Pearce refutes NPR report tying SB 1070 to private prison industry

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Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is president of the Arizona state Senate.

Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2010 3:54 pm | Updated: 2:21 pm, Sat Apr 16, 2011.

The architect of the state's tough new immigration law is branding as fiction a report by National Public Radio that claims the private prison industry was a driving force behind the bill.

Laura Sullivan, in a report broadcast Thursday, said these private prison companies "had a plan, a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona's immigration law."

But Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the report ignored a host of key points. That specifically includes the fact that Pearce has sponsored variants of what eventually became SB 1070 in the past. That is before the annual meeting last December of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the meeting at which Sullivan said the legislation was put together with the help of private prison officials.

"I've introduced this bill in '05, '06, '07, '08, '09 and 2010," Pearce said.

For example, Pearce sponsored legislation last year to forbid public officials from limiting the ability of police officers to question or detain suspected illegal immigrants. Another 2009 bill would make any illegal immigrant in Arizona guilty of the state crime of trespass.

Both are key elements of what eventually became SB 1070.

Pearce specifically denied this is the work of lobbyists.

"I wrote this bill with the help of some good constitutional attorneys," Pearce said. "Never have had a conversation with prison industry on this bill."

He did acknowledge that there were prison industry representatives present when he took the bill to ALEC last December in hopes of making a model that other states can imitate.

"They're part of a committee that I'm required to go through to get model legislation passed," Pearce said. "That has to be presented to the board."

Key provisions of the state law never took effect after U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction. That is up for review Monday before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sullivan, in her report, said the new law "could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before."

There are anywhere from 350,000 to 450,000 illegal immigrants in the state, depending on whose figures are believed. But her report presumes that if they are caught they will be locked up instead of being immediately deported.

"And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them," Sullivan said.

Pearce said he does believe that SB 1070, if it is implemented, will result in more illegal immigrants being detained and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And that agency does contract with private companies to incarcerate those who are not immediately deported.

"But that's between them and ICE," Pearce said. "I have nothing to do with that. I don't set their policies or encourage them to do anything except enforce the law."

The report also says SB 1070 "requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally.''

But the bill simply requires police, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of those who they alreasdy have stopped if there is "reasonable suspicion'' that person is in the country illegally. There is no mandate to make an arrest, witht the law saying police "may securely transport'' an illegal immigrant to federal custody.

The NPR report also mentions Gov. Jan Brewer and the fact that two top advisers are former lobbyists for private prison companies. But Brewer said any suggestion that she signed SB 1070 to benefit private prisons is based on a mistaken assumption.

"NPR must be like the president or Eric Holder: They didn't read the bill," she said. "(SB) 1070 doesn't cause incarceration decisions by the state government, only the federal government. Any decisions about their public or private prisons are made by them, not Arizona."

As to illegal immigrants being incarcerated for violating things like the trespass provisions, Pearce said they would wind up in county jails, not in the state prison system which already contracts with private companies.

Pearce pointed out that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio already has designated a portion of his "Tent City" jail for illegal immigrants if the law takes effect.

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