Public opinion has been on Patrick Haab’s side since he was arrested April 10 for conducting a “citizen’s arrest” of seven illegal immigrants at a remote rest stop near Gila Bend. Now he has Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on his side as well.
Thomas said Thursday that he won’t charge Haab, because the Mesa Army reservist acted within the bounds of federal and state law when he brandished a weapon and made the arrests. Given the circumstances of the incident, public outrage over Haab’s arrest by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies, and Thomas’ campaign pledge last year to “Stop Illegal Immigration,” the decision not to prosecute was hardly a surprise. Even if Thomas had decided to file charges, it’s doubtful a jury would have found Haab guilty of anything.
Significantly, though, Thomas’ decision carried a caveat: Don‘t run out and take the law into your own hands. Haab was fortunate in that under slightly different circumstances he might be staring at a serious criminal charge.
“Citizens do not have the right to round up people they suspect of being in Arizona illegally at the local day labor center or Home Depot,” Thomas said. “People who do this can and will be prosecuted for felonies that can lead to substantial prison time. Haab was, in a sense, lucky in the unique facts of this case.”
Those facts, noted Thomas, are that the seven illegals he apprehended were active participants at the time in a human smuggling operation, which is a felony. But he noted that simply being in this country illegally is not a felony. He couldn’t resist using the opportunity to lecture the federal government on its lax enforcement of border security and immigration law. And we can’t resist repeating his lecture, which we sincerely hope Congress will heed:
“This case and other recent events in Arizona are warning signs that the continuing crisis of widespread illegal immigration has reached a new and alarming state. These developments should serve as a wakeup call to the federal government (which) must honor its responsibilities under the United States Constitution and secure the border. Otherwise, people will inevitably be hurt.
For my part, I intent to do what I can within the powers of this office to render justice to individual cases while addressing this problem, to the extent I can, on a broader scale.”
Tougher border security, coupled with a realistic guest-worker program that allows legal immigrants to fill jobs not taken by American workers, is absolutely essential. And given public frustration, particularly in Arizona and other border states, Congress had best act on these reforms soon.