Calling it an “unfunded mandate,” East Valley police departments are concerned about their ability to enforce a sweeping immigration bill that could be passed by the Arizona Legislature as early as this week.
The immigration bill, which passed the House on Tuesday and is expected to be approved by the Senate, would require local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to believe they are here illegally.
Police unions representing the rank-and-file officers, although not opposed to the bill, believe it could create manpower challenges during a time of budget reductions and are also concerned about potential lawsuits the law could bring, according to Bryan Soller, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge’s No. 9, which represents 600 officers.
“If we’re getting hammered with calls, is a misdemeanor (trespassing by an illegal immigrant) more important than a stabbing or shooting?” Soller said. “No. The problem with this law is that it’s an unfunded mandate and could eat up a lot of manpower and cost a lot of money.”
Senate Bill 1070, sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally — misdemeanor trespassing — while allowing police officers the authority and discretion to seek one’s citizenship status and apprehend them for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are in the country legally can be jailed for up to six months before deportation and fined $2,500.
The law would also crack down on employment for illegal immigrants by prohibiting people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day labor services on street corners.
It also allows people to file lawsuits against police agencies they believe are lax in enforcing their immigration obligations to the fullest extent permitted by federal law.
Municipalities also could be fined between $1,000 to $5,000 per day in such instances.
John Thomas, a representative and lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Police Chiefs, said the fallout from such a fine could be financially devastating for smaller municipalities.
There are an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants living in the state, a number of whom work in service industries, fast-food restaurants and within public school systems.
But for people who fear they could be targeted or stopped, there is concern they may not be able to produce the required paperwork to prove they are living in the country legally.
“When they come up with these things, it doesn’t matter if I’m here legally,” Jose Melendez, a 55-yearold naturalized U.S. citizen from Guadalajara, Mexico, told the Associated Press. “If they see a Mexican face and a Mexican name, they’ll ask for papers.”
The Senate could vote on the House version of the bill on Monday and send the measure to Gov. Jan Brewer for her signature. Pearce said he has already lined up enough votes in the Senate to ensure its passage.
Mesa police union officials have been working with Pearce on a supplemental bill that would address their concerns.
They are seeking to implement measures that would protect officers and cities from lawsuits and reduce fines against cities if they determine officers are not enforcing the law.
The trailer bill “will address those issues,” said Sarah Dodge, communications director for Pearce.
Soller beleves the law is more of a federal issue and the feds need to step up and better secure the border.
“All we’re going to do is deport them (illegals), and they’re going to come right back,” Soller said. “But, if the law is passed, we’ll give it our best shot to enforce it. That’s what we do. You know this law is going to be tested and this one is open to a lot of lawsuits.”
The proposed bill is opposed by some police chiefs around the state, according to the Arizona Association of Police Chiefs and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
However, Thomas said there was not a breakdown of which departments supported the law or who opposed it, only that opposition was shown by a hand vote during one of the association’s meetings.
“Police chiefs have opposed the bill from the beginning,” Thomas said.
Police chiefs throughout the East Valley are publicly avoiding the hot-button issue until it becomes law. Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn, Chandler Chief Sherry Kiyler and Tempe Chief Tom Ryff all declined comment about the bill.
Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said he hasn’t seen the proposed bill in its entirety and was unsure what ramifications it would have on his department.
He said Mesa attorneys had seen the original Senate bill and weren’t concerned. “I don’t know that there was any requirement in it that we were currently meeting,” Milstead said. “Mesa has a very progressive policy on how we handle immigration with criminal predicate. That policy is well-thought out and supported by many community chiefs.”
The proposed bill, however, has Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pledge of support.
“My office will be ready to enforce the new laws just as we have been enforcing all aspects of state and federal laws that are already in place,” Arpaio said in a statement on Wednesday.
Arpaio’s statement came a day after his office announced the arrest of 30 illegal immigrants for felony human smuggling offenses in the northern part of the Valley within a 24-hour period.