Wed, June 26

Senate panel gives green light to bill designed to combat illegal immigration

PHOENIX -- A Senate panel approved a far-reaching bill designed to combat illegal immigration, including allowing police to stop and actually arrest anyone they just reasonably believe is in this country illegally.

Other provisions of the measure approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services include:

• Paving the way for law enforcement to conduct "sting' operations to find companies knowingly hiring undocumented workers;

• Making it a crime to stop a vehicle on the street to pick up someone to do a "day labor' job;

• Requiring police to make a "reasonable attempt' to determine the immigration status of anyone they contact officially if there is "reasonable suspicion' they are an illegal immigrant;

• Permitting anyone to sue a city, county or any government that has policies which limit immigration enforcement by their employees "to less than the full extent permitted by law.'

Wednesday's 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in the majority, sends the SB 1070 to the full Senate.

The move is the latest effort by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to force local communities to do more to find, detain -- and arrest or deport -- those who entered the country illegally.

He specifically is taking aim at what he called "sanctuary policies' of some cities and police departments that direct police officers not to inquire about the legal status of those they encounter who are not otherwise being investigated for a crime. Pearce said that is why his legislation specifically allows anyone who finds governments are not living up to their obligations to sue.

That raised concerns by Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, that people who are victims or witnesses would be hesitant to report crimes for fear of being arrested.

"That's valid concern,' said Mark Spencer, the president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which supports the bill. But Spencer said that presumes police officers would use "racial profiling' to try to determine whether victims and witnesses are in this country legally.

Much of the debate centered around what authority -- if any -- police have to detain those they suspect of being illegal immigrants.

John Thomas, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, specifically questioned the section about officers being able to arrest suspected illegal immigrants.

"This requires federal immigration training,' he said, referring to a section of federal laws which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train local police to enforce federal immigration laws. That training includes being able to properly identify who is and is not in this country legally.

But Pearce said all police officers have "inherent authority' to enforce federal immigration laws, even without special training. He said the only time that special training is required is after someone is arrested to determine their legal status.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said what Pearce is proposing is necessary.

"We often lose sight of the fact that our porous border and costs related to illegal aliens are costing the citizens of Arizona in excess of $2 billion a year,' he said. Melvin said that includes educating illegal immigrants and their children, incarcerating those who commit crimes and the cost of emergency hospital treatment.

"If we could solve this issue -- and this legislation takes us in that direction -- we could, in many ways, almost eliminate our budget woes, these gut-wrenching billions in budget deficits,' Melvin said.

The Department of Corrections reports that 6,313 of the nearly 41,000 inmates serving time for felonies are illegal immigrants.

There are no accurate figures for education, as schools are precluded from asking the legal status of either students or their parents. But the Pew Hispanic Center figured last year that about one of seven students in Arizona schools are here because of illegal immigration, whether the youngsters themselves are undocumented or they are born in this country to parents who entered the United States illegally.

Joe Sigg, lobbyist for the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, said there is no need for the kind of "sting' operations this measure would facilitate, where police actively see if a company will hire someone who cannot prove legal residency as is already required by both state and federal law. He said if there are employers breaking the law there will already be plenty of work for officers.

And Allison Bell, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said she feared some otherwise innocent companies might want up in trouble.

The provision of concern spells out that companies are not "entrapped' if they were "predisposed' to breaking the law and officers simply provided the opportunity to break it.

Bell said the business group wants a definition of what makes a company "predisposed' to hiring illegal immigrants, suggesting that companies have an absolute defense to charges if they use the federal government's online E-Verify system to check the legal status of new workers.

Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, said one particular problem is a section of the measure making it a crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants. She said that could make criminals out of the immediate family members of someone here illegally simply for having them in their homes or driving them somewhere in their cars.

Another provision would allow officers to arrest those they suspect are illegal immigrants is another provision making it a criminal violation of state trespass laws to be in the state, whether on public or private land and be in violation of federal immigration laws.

Pearce said, though, he's not necessarily looking to fill Arizona jails with illegal immigrants. He said it gives discretion to law enforcement officers whether to seek prosecution or simply turn offenders over to ICE.