Sun, March 29

Local police face dilemma with illegal aliens

What will be the effect on the Verde Valley of Tuesday's Immigration Summit for Law Enforcement?

Cottonwood Police Chief Doug Bartosh believes the Verde Valley won't feel much emphasis from the Governor's initiatives, which headlined the special session. Those actions, he believes, will be focussed at Maricopa County.

But there is "buzz" from the conference that local police agencies will be made to round up undocumented aliens.

Summit scuttlebutt suggests that the state House leadership will attempt again to force local agencies to aggressively enforce immigration law. Such a new bill would prosecute local police chiefs and other agency heads that fail in such enforcement, according to the Summit rumor.

The governor last session vetoed a bill that would have authorized all state and local police to enforce immigration law.

Sedona Police Chief Joe Vernier says, "Immigration is a very divisive and contentious issue, but there is a lack of political and social consensus over the issue."

Sedona's tourist business attracts numerous immigrants to work in hotels, restaurants, contracting and landscaping businesses. He says the police priority is to respond to criminal offenses, whereas political concerns are aimed at symptoms such as overcrowded schools and a drain on social services.

The Cottonwood chief maintains local agencies should be able to call on the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) task force if it is needed to apprehend a violent alien. At the same time, Bartosh believes, "We want to make sure officers are not racially profiling or alienating the Hispanic community."

He says, "We do not want Hispanics or anyone else to fear coming to police as victims whether or not they are in Arizona legally. It must be a balancing act in providing police service."

A proposed state initiative would create a partnership of 12 DPS officers and 12 Border Patrol agents to bolster efforts of understaffed immigration agents in capturing undocumented aliens, especially those involved in violent crimes and drug and human smuggling. The new unit will be called the State Illegal Immigrant Enforcement Squad

Efforts would also crack down on auto thefts at the border and increase enforcement to stop the flow of bogus documents.

Arizona has one of the highest levels of smuggling activity along the Mexican border. The high illegal immigration and smuggling, according to the state Attorney General's office, has led to a spike in violent crime including home invasion robberies, kidnappings and murders.

Police at the summit worried there's a lack of federal will or a lack of manpower to enforce immigration law on the federal level. Two years ago, Sedona police stopped a van full of illegal immigrants, but police were told by INS to let them go.

Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris complained to the conference that when his officers round up illegals, 80 percent of the time the feds fail to pick up and deport them.

Both local chiefs suggest there will be follow up activities and meetings in smaller groups.

Vernier says detectives are expected to get training to better handle cases where immigration issues are involved. And the Sedona chief adds that he has read in police journals that federal field guides to immigration apprehensions will be provided local agencies.

Regional participation at the summit at Northern Arizona University included Bartosh, Vernier, Yavapai Sheriff Steve Waugh, and Pat Huntsman of Chino Valley and others among 100 local, state and federal law officers.

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