Pearce: Impetus Builds To Let Police Ask Immigration Status

Pearce: Impetus builds to let police ask immigration status

By Jacques Billeaud
The Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.06.2007

PHOENIX A push to get police departments to change policies discouraging officers from asking people whether they are in the country legally appears to be gaining momentum, the Arizona Legislature's leading advocate for cracking down on illegal immigration said Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa said the decision by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon to change similar rules will help his efforts to get the Legislature to outlaw such so-called sanctuary policies in the coming year.

“They are responding because they have been overwhelmed by a public outcry,” said Pearce, who has unsuccessfully sought similar changes during the last two legislative sessions.

Several police agencies in Arizona don't inquire about the immigration status of people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes.

Advocates for tougher border enforcement argue the restrictions represent a lost opportunity for local police to seek out illegal immigrants who haven't come into contact with federal immigration authorities.

Supporters of the policies said local officers already have the authority to arrest illegal immigrants who commit crimes, that police agencies can't afford the new responsibilities and that the proposal could lead to racial profiling of Hispanics.

“This is truly a civil-rights and human-rights issue that will continue to be on the forefront of what we do at the Legislature,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix. “This is far from over.”

Gallardo, who believes Phoenix is making a mistake by seeking to reverse its policy, said bringing local police deeper into the fight against illegal immigration could detract from their role of keeping neighborhoods safe.

Earlier this week, Gordon appointed a four-person panel to consider changing the policy that bars local police officers from calling federal immigration authorities for help in some situations. The mayor called the rules out of step with the times.

Immigrant-rights groups said a policy change would jeopardize the trust police officers have built with immigrants.

Recommendations from the panel, made up of former prosecutors, are expected by year's end.

While such policies have consistently drawn criticism in recent years, the death of Phoenix Officer Nick Erfle, who was fatally shot in September by an illegal immigrant, brought loud calls for changes.

The union representing 2,200 Phoenix officers also broke ranks with police leadership to call for an end to the policies.