The efforts of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Janet Napolitano to turn a large number of local law enforcement officers into immigration agents should be a model for other agencies that might respond to public pressure to fill the enormous gaps left by the federal government.
As the Tribune’s Gary Grado reported Tuesday, Arpaio’s office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which reports to Napolitano, are in serious negotiations with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide immigration enforcement authority to at least 50 state troopers and up to 160 sheriff’s deputies.
While heavily resisted by immigration rights advocates and most law enforcement leaders, many Arizonans want local police to identify potential illegal immigrants and detain those who appear people likely to be deported. But federal immigration laws are rather complex, and proper training is needed to make sure officers don’t fall into a trap of profiling possible suspects just by how they look or speak. Signing agreements with ICE would guarantee DPS and the sheriff’s office get that training at federal expense and provide both agencies with unquestioned immigration authority.
Arpaio and Napolitano actually have been seeking such agreements for more than a year. But past ICE officials in Arizona dragged their feet apparently out of concern that state and local officials would intrude on the federal agency’s bailiwick, despite similar agreements on a smaller scale reached with law enforcement agencies in Florida and California.
ICE has become more amenable since the recent Valley arrival of special agent in charge Alonzo Pena, a sign that the Bush administration finally is grasping the intensity of public frustration on this issue.
DPS Lt. Andy Vasquez told the Tribune an agreement with ICE would allow his agency to carry out the intent of funding provided last year by the Legislature, and the state’s top priority would be to target human smugglers and related crimes. Arpaio has been quoted elsewhere as saying he wants to use an ICE agreement to encourage his deputies to check for illegal immigrants during the normal course of business including traffic stops, welfare checks and calls for assistance. The sheriff’s office already has been involved in the controversial practice of arresting immigrants caught with a human smuggler as conspirators.
The DPS approach to its pending ICE agreement makes more sense than Arpaio’s, as the state would direct limited resources toward stopping activities most likely to lead to kidnappings, murders, auto thefts and widespread identity theft. Asking officers to act as general immigration agents could drain resources away from tackling violence and other serious threats to public safety, while increasing mistrust among legal and illegal immigrants alike who could help law enforcement to prevent or to solve such crimes.
Regardless of the approach, signing agreements with ICE is far perferable to simply compelling the police to look for illegal immigrants without enough knowledge to do the job effectively and within the bounds of the law.