Official : Local Police Can Help Confront Illegal Immigration

Official: Local Police Can Help Confront Illegal Immigration

The Associated Press, December 13, 2008

Arizona taxpayers shouldn't expect local and state police to cure all the state's immigration ills, but local police can assist federal agents in confronting the problem, the head of the Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

Roger Vanderpool said he hopes a meeting here of about 150 law enforcement officials will open up discussions about what local authorities can do to address a problem long considered the domain of the federal government.

“We can't just keep pointing fingers at each other as a law enforcement community and say, 'It's the other guy's problem, ' “ Vanderpool said. “It's a problem for the state of Arizona.''

Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered the state Department of Public Safety to hold the Flagstaff meeting. She maintains the state ought to do more to confront illegal immigration, but still shouldn't let the federal government off the hook.

Illegal immigration has become a key and divisive issue in the state, the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Once considered a black hole that few elected officials wished to enter, illegal immigration is also gaining more prominence in Arizona politics. It began last year when voters easily approved a law that denies some government benefits to illegal immigrants in Arizona.

It continued this year when the Legislature considered two dozen proposals aimed at confronting the problem and is likely to generate political heat through next year's gubernatorial election.

On Tuesday, 16 Republican and Democratic state lawmakers asked to attend the 21/2-hour meeting in Flagstaff but were turned away. Vanderpool said the meeting was closed to the public and the media because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

“I think we have to allow the law enforcement leaders to have that opportunity to talk frankly about those issues,'' Vanderpool said.

Some of the Democratic governor's Republican critics say she has sent mixed messages on immigration and has given attention to the problem because it will play a part in the gubernatorial race.

“She ran from this issue,'' said Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the Legislature's staunchest advocate for limiting immigration. “She calls a summit and then she goes out of town on vacation.''

Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said the governor is doing what she can to get the state to confront a problem that the federal government hasn't adequately addressed.

“To say that this is somehow political cover for the governor's race is ridiculous,'' L'Ecuyer said.