Immigration mandate comes with many concerns - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Immigration mandate comes with many concerns

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Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:13 pm

Arizona’s new get-tough-on-immigration bill shows that lawmakers have finally come around to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s way of thinking.

That can be a good thing, but it should also make you nervous.

If enacted by the Arizona Legislature, HB1070 will become the most sweeping immigration reform in the nation, forcing local police to determine whether people are in the country illegally. Proponents will tell you that’s a good thing, considering Arizona is the most popular point of entry for illegal immigrants into this country.

The costs involved with illegal immigrants are recited often, from jobs lost (assuming White America will even take some of those jobs) to overcrowded emergency rooms full of uninsured patients to income being sent back to Mexico rather than being spent here.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, told the Associated Press that the proposed legislation “takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job.”

“This legislation stops practices that hurt Arizonans, like sanctuary cities and 'catch and release policies,’” added Pearce.

As with anything, however, there are costs involved. And concerns.

The House of Representatives bill, which is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by conservative Gov. Jan Brewer, requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status whenever making “lawful contact” if there is reason to suspect they are illegal. Those suspects would be required to show proof of citizenship.

“Lawful contact” is vague terminology that can be interpreted many ways. Should U.S. citizens, who are otherwise doing nothing illegal, be forced to carry a drivers license if they are simply taking their dog for a walk in the park? In other words, can a person with brown skin and an accent be pulled over just because they “look” guilty?

Opponents fear this will, in effect, create a police state, violate civil rights and encourage racial profiling.

Don’t think police will resort to racial profiling? The Tribune’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Reasonable Doubt” uncovered several instances by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

That Tribune series also exposed another serious problem that could worsen under this immigration bill.

Arpaio & Co. devoted much effort and manpower to immigration sweeps. And they were effective. The number of illegal immigrants in Arizona dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to federal estimates. In fairness, the efforts of ICE, DPS and city police forces were also a big part of that reduction (albeit without all the TV cameras that have become Arpaio magnets), as was the dwindling economy.

But the “Reasonable Doubt” series also discovered that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office devotion to immigration enforcement greatly compromised its ability to handle violent crimes. MCSO response times for life-threatening emergencies were down. And arrest rates plunged even as the number of criminal investigations soared.

Short-handed police agencies are already faced with tough decisions on how to deploy their limited resources. Creating another legislative mandate adds to that conundrum. Do you want your police spending more time on violent crime? Or misdemeanor trespassing violations by illegal immigrants?

Both, you say? Fine, but that legislative mandate on immigration better come with some additional funding and resources to carry out that mission.

In addition to more cops on the street, those officers will also have to undergo federal training on how to handle illegal immigrants, as mandated by Section 287(g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

That’s a six-week training course, which also has to be paid for out of city budgets.

Border issues are supposed to be handled by the federal government, which has been slow to enact any kind of national immigration reform.

One good thing about making this a federal issue rather than a state problem: When it comes to funding, the boys in Washington have no qualms about exceeding their budget limits.

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