Widespread public interest in getting local police more involved with federal immigration law should not become an unfunded mandate that usurps local control to focus on a problem that’s not even a crime.
So we applaud Gov. Janet Napolitano’s veto last week of House Bill 2807. It was an important and politically difficult stand that could be a pivotal moment of her administration.
Police and sheriff’s deputies have little choice but to cope with immigration questions; it’s an unpleasant fact of life that much of the public now connects illegal immigration to common criminal activity despite reliable evidence that foreigners are not more likely than native-born Americans to harm others.
But the exact responsibilities that police assume for immigration enforcement should be determined by each community based on the resources and expertise available.
Napolitano noted in her veto letter that the federal government only has a miniscule $5.5 million a year to provide immigration enforcement training for police nationwide. HB2807 required the state to pick up any unmet expenses, which Napolitano estimated at $100 million, but didn’t actually set aside any funds to do so.
A unfunded mandate from above to satisfy popular whims likely would prompt some police agencies to cut corners, to trample on civil rights or to ignore other concerns that rightfully fall within their domain.
This is particularly troubling as residing in the United States without government permission is a violation of federal law but is not a crime. The only penalty is deportation, whereas a criminal violation entails at the least the possibility of a jail sentence.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t care, saying his illegal immigration sweeps — thinly disguised as “crime suppression” — address a serious problem. But Arapio actually has received state funding to underwrite his immigration enforcement efforts.
Meanwhile, we have to agree with Mesa Police Chief George Gascón when he asks why no one is demanding that his officers track down tax evaders, corrupt business CEOs and other legal violators that traditionally have been state or federal responsibilities.
HB2807 and even tougher measures being debated at the state Capitol would be an unavoidable distraction for East Valley police agencies just as they are starting to get a handle on violent crime rates and are taking their first serious steps toward using 21st century technology to match wits with the really bad guys and gals. Overreaching mandates likely would disrupt these successes and could hold back East Valley law enforcement for years to come.
We aren’t suggesting that local police should turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, especially the violence and degradation connected to human smuggling and drop houses. But police officials should be offered the proper infrastructure and training to be more effective while working within the priorities set by community leaders and paid for by local residents.
Unless East Valley cities want to raise taxes, they would have to decide what police services to give up in return for broader immigration enforcement. Would there be fewer crime prevention and block watch programs? Would police have to postpone welfare checks and vacation patrols?
Unfunded state mandates would not be a helpful tool. They would be a barrier to quality police work. And they would set the stage for immigration issues to become even more divisive.