Bill Richardson: Unfortunately, the facts don't support those who are demanding new state laws to force unfunded mandates on cities and could take away local control of law enforcement from lawfully elected officials.
According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, it had 40,690 inmates in custody as of November. Only 14.4 percent were illegal immigrants.
To hear some tell it, illegal immigrants are responsible for 50 to 90 percent of Arizona's crime. And for some who hear the inflated and fabricated numbers being spouted, their favorite song is "Round 'em up, send them back old Mexico way and Arizona's problems will all go away, yippee-i-o-ki-ay."
Local police chiefs have told me only 6 to 10 percent of their city's arrests are of illegal immigrants.
Unfortunately, the facts don't support those who are demanding new state laws to force unfunded mandates on cities and could take away local control of law enforcement from lawfully elected officials.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, with the support of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, wants to make being an illegal immigrant a violation of state law as well as federal law, and wipe out legally enacted local law enforcement policies as they relate to dealing with illegal immigrants who come in contact with police.
Pearce sent out an e-mail earlier this month saying he would reintroduce legislation that will "eliminate all sanctuary cities in this state and allow legal citizens the right to sue their government for violating this law." A "sanctuary city" requires a council vote to prevent police from taking enforcement action against illegal immigrants for immigration violations. According to the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, there are no sanctuary cities in Arizona.
So this is just what cities need, to be told what to do by a failed state Legislature and to be set up for costly lawsuits based on what one person thinks is the best way to provide law enforcement instead of the legally adopted policies of elected officials.
City law enforcement is doing fine, a better job than Arpaio, with existing laws and without a state government teetering on fiscal insolvency telling them what to do.
In my May 27 column, "The numbers don't match Arpaio's hype," I wrote: "Arpaio doesn't lead the county in immigration arrests. Phoenix police arrested more than 7,300 illegal immigrants during 2008, and Mesa police officers arrested more than 1,200 illegal immigrants and investigated 60 drop houses last year. Phoenix and Mesa made more than 8,500 immigration arrests during routine policing operations by following well-formulated city policies, state and federal laws, and without legislative meddling. And Arpaio? According to the sheriff's office, since April 2006, deputies have arrested a little more than 3,000 illegal immigrants."
According to the sheriff's Web site, that number now stands at only 3,642. In fiscal year 2008-09 in Maricopa County, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responded to 3,200 calls for assistance from metropolitan police agencies other than the sheriff's office and took into custody and deported 13,200 illegal immigrants detained by local and state police.
The sheriff's office has reportedly turned over 30,527 illegal immigrants to ICE, the overwhelming majority of whom were arrested by officers from another law enforcement agency.
Pearce's mailing said, "I will introduce this legislation and hope to get it out of the Legislature within the first two weeks of session."
Just in January, 200 juvenile corrections employees have been laid off. The potential exists that 350 Department of Public Safety employees could be laid off. And thanks to prison privatization legislation, thousands more state corrections employees could lose their jobs. Statewide public safety is in serious jeopardy.
Arizona is broke. But the best thing Pearce and the Republican leadership that he claims support him have to worry about is usurping local control and lawfully adopted law enforcement policies such as those followed in Phoenix, Mesa and other Arizona communities, while taking away an officer's and a city's lawful discretion and replacing it with threats of lawsuits brought by a single individual who disagrees with the majority rule of law.
No wonder the state is in a downward spiral.
The Legislature needs to stay focused on keeping public safety and other essential state services in place and quit worrying about a problem that is already being handled quite well by local police and ICE.
Fix what's broken, not what isn't.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.