Hispanic Activists: Local Law Enforcement Should Not Have Role

Hispanic activists: Local law enforcement should not have role in immigration enforcement

By Howard Fischer
The Capitol Media Services, April 25, 2008

Phoenix — Hispanic activists lashed out Wednesday at state lawmakers who voted to require local police and sheriffs departments to implement a program to address violations of federal immigration laws.

Lydia Guzman, vice president of Somos America, was particularly miffed with Hispanic legislators, virtually all of whom agreed to support HB 2807. And the Rev. Luz Santiago, pastor of Iglesia Puebla de Dios in Mesa, said lawmakers need to be reminded that 'were the ones that can vote you out.

The result is that the only way to kill the measure now is to convince Gov. Janet Napolitano to veto it.

The organization, whose name translates to 'We Are America, asked Napolitano to do just that, saying that mandating such programs will only increase racial profiling. They also called it 'a divisive bill that polarizes the state between 'the pro-immigrant reformers and the anti-immigrant groups infiltrated by hate organizations like the neo-Nazis and KKK.

Napolitano said she has not yet made a decision on the fate of the law to sign or veto it.

But Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said the governor should sign it. He said the legislation is nowhere near as onerous as foes would believe.

'The bill does very little, he said. In fact, Prezelski said, local law enforcement agencies can comply with the provisions by doing as little as establishing 'operational relationships with federal agencies to help determine if individuals are in this country legally.

Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma, said the experience in her county proves those relationships are valuable.

'That communication has been strategic in finding when there are illegal immigrants who are criminals, she said. Aguirre said the result has been reducing gang activity, trafficking in narcotics 'and finding some really bad people out there.

But the real key, said Prezelski, is that approval of this measure might undermine efforts by some legislators to get voters to pass a far more comprehensive measure being pushed by Rep.

Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, one that would actually empower all local police officers to arrest anyone in this country illegally.

Prezelski called HCR 2039 'absolutely ridiculous.

None of that convinced Guzman.

'We know that there was some negotiation that was done, she said of the concept of supporting HB 2807 as an alternative to the trespass measure.

'Were very saddened to see that some of the legislators did not take the time to ask the community on how this would affect the real lives of human beings, Guzman continued. 'Theyre taking it upon themselves to make these decisions that are affecting our communities, added Luz Santiago.

'And we need to put a stop to them, she said. 'We need to send a message to all the legislators that, Hey, were the ones who put you in and were the ones that can vote you out.

The legislation mandates that city and county law enforcement agencies must have a program to deal with violations of federal immigration laws.

But its wording gives agencies a menu of options.

One the one that upsets Guzman and allies involves having officers get special federal training to allow them to actually enforce federal immigration laws. Thats the kind of certification which Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has obtained for some of his deputies.

Those deputies have been involved in 'sweeps of some neighborhoods, looking for people committing minor violations like traffic offenses so they can be stopped and questioned about their presence in this country.

Guzman said there first needs to be an investigation of that agreement to determine if the activities violate the civil rights of the people they stop.

The legislation, however, also allows agencies to comply by embedding federal immigration officers within their agencies. Or they can simply establish those 'operational relationships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Pearce measure, however, expands state laws against trespass to include anyone who is in this country legally, whether on public or private property, in essence giving all police officers the power to arrest them.

Both bills contain identical provisions which prohibit cities from enacting policies that prohibit public employees from sending information to or receiving information from federal agencies about whether an individual is an illegal immigrant.

That would include not just people picked up by police but individuals applying for licenses and benefits that are permitted only to legal U.S. residents.

House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said he believes the bill does not require police to do anything they dont want to do. 'It gives them the option, he said.

Lopes said, though, his decision to support the measure was political.

'I voted for this because I got a lot of constituent pushing, he said.