Sun, April 05

Proposed law would give police more power to detain illegal immigrants

PHOENIX -- A House panel approved legislation designed to give police more power to detain illegal immigrants.

SB 1070 would overrule any policy or procedure of a city council or police department that keeps officers from enforcing federal immigration laws. It also says that, when practicable, police must inquire about the immigration status of those they encounter as part of their regular activities.

The legislation which cleared the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety on a 5-2 vote, also would make criminals out of those who not only harbor or transport those they know are illegal immigrants, or at least recklessly disregard that likelihood, but also outlaw encouraging an illegal immigrant to come to Arizona.

And it would make it a crime to fail to carry a resident legal alien document.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, questioned whether that requirement to produce identification could end up being used to detain people who are in fact in this country legally but don't happen to be carrying their identification.

But Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Phoenix, said that concern is overblown.

He said police would need a "lawful reason' to stop and question someone in the first place. And even if they have a reason, Pearce said a simple call to the motor vehicle division would confirm if the name and social security number someone gives an officer matches state records.

"I don't believe in a police state,' he said. But Pearce said officers already manage to stop and question people all the time now without running afoul of their rights.

Pearce also said many of the groups who sent representatives to testify against the bill are "anarchists,' not interested in enforcing the existing immigration laws.

He did not name names. But those speaking against the bill included Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Alliance, and Ron Johnson who lobbies on behalf of the state's three Catholic bishops.

SB 1070, which now goes to the full House, also would bar motorists from stopping on the street to pick up someone for a day labor job. And it would make criminals out of those who not only transport or harbor those they know are illegal immigrants, or at least recklessly disregard that likelihood, but also those who "encourage or induce an alien to come to or reside in this state.'

The measure has divided the law enforcement community, with police chiefs on one side and rank-and-file officers on the other.

Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said officers want and need the ability to question people about their legal status. He said his own city's policies remain a roadblock even after they were loosened in response to officer complaints.

Spencer said it also is wrong to see the legislation as aimed at minority. He said Hispanics are just as likely to be victims of crimes by illegal immigrants, if not more so.

But John Thomas, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, said his members fear fallout from the language requiring officers to question people about their immigration status.

"Victims and witnesses (who are illegal immigrants) are not going to come forward voluntarily,' he said. Thomas said the language added to the measure to give some discretion to police officers won't provide sufficient comfort to them.

Of greater concern, he said, is language that allows anyone to file suit against a city, contending it has "sanctuary policies' that "limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.' Thomas said that will put some communities at risk of having to spend time and money defending their policies.

Pearce defended the lawsuit provision.

"What it says is you have a right to hold your government accountable,' he said.

The measure already has been approved by the Senate, but with somewhat different provisions. That means whatever is finally approved by the full House will have to go back to that chamber for approval or rejection.

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