Council OK’s Police’s Immigration Policy

Council OKs police's immigration policy

By Gary Nelson
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), July 5, 2008

Mesa got a civics lesson to go along with its new immigration policy.

The City Council endorsed that policy in broad terms Thursday, seeking a couple of clarifications and stressing that the new procedures will always be a work in progress.

But the recurrent theme during a nearly two-hour discussion was that whatever Mesa police do, it must accord with the spirit of the Constitution.

Police Chief George Gascon laid out publicly, for the first time, details of a policy about which council members were briefed privately in recent days. The document will kick in after a four-month training period.

It says police must ask the immigration status of anyone being arrested and contact federal authorities if there's reason to believe the suspect is here illegally.

It also allows police, in some circumstances, to ask about the residency of people stopped but not taken into custody for more minor offenses. Federal agents may be contacted in those cases, too.

Beyond that, Mesa police will not be assuming a broader role in immigration enforcement.

Gascon said such enforcement is still, essentially, a federal job. And beyond that, Gascon said, there is the Constitution.

'We do play by certain rules,' he said. 'There are constitutional requirements that we have to follow. And contrary to what many believe, people that are in this country, even those that are here illegally, still have certain constitutional protections.

'Those are the rules we have to play by,' he added. 'And if we don't, we are subject not only to criminal liability but also civil liability … not only for the officers but for the entire city.'

One southeast Valley city got a taste of that liability in 1997. Chandler police were told that year to stop people who appeared to be Hispanic and ask about their residency status, leading to civil-rights complaints, a lawsuit and, eventually, more than $700,000 in legal costs for the city.

Mayor Scott Smith picked up on Gascon's theme Thursday.

Smith asked rhetorically, 'Why don't we just sort of arrest everybody and let things fall out where they may?'

Gascon replied, 'One of the things we want to ensure is that we, in doing our work, are protecting everybody's rights.'