Plan advances in state House; aim is to give issue to voters
Capitol Media ServicesPHOENIX — Arizona voters could get a chance to require law-enforcement officers to ask people they arrest if they're in the country legally.
If they're not, police would have the option of referring them for prosecution, or if no charges are pursued, turning them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
HCR 2039, given preliminary approval in the state House on Tuesday, also would prohibit state or local governments from having any policies, official or otherwise, forbidding officers to ask those they stop about their immigration status. The proposal also would make it a crime just to be in the country in violation of federal immigration laws.
The measure still requires final House action and Senate approval before it goes to voters.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, proposed the measure as a ballot item because Gov. Janet Napolitano has previously vetoed a similar plan — a tactic he used before for several items voters approved in 2006 after the governor had nixed them.
At the center of the debate is what role local law enforcement should play in dealing with the estimated 450,000 or more people in Arizona illegally.
Pearce said rank-and-file police officers want the ability to stop and detain illegal entrants. But he said many have been stymied by city or police-chief policies that block them from routinely asking about immigration status.
If someone believes city or county officials are directing their officers not to enforce the law, that person can sue.
Judges would be empowered to withhold all state funding "until the policy is rescinded" or levy penalties of $5,000 per day.
The measure provoked a sharp debate among lawmakers over how active a role state and local governments should take in dealing with illegal immigration.
Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said legislators should not be telling individual communities what the priorities of police should be.
"Some like the way the local sheriff does 'sweeps' to capture dishwashers and people who clean our homes and people who work in nursing homes," he said, referring to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
"Law enforcement in local jurisdictions has their own discipline and their own community standards and their own sense of priority of keeping the streets safe and capturing real criminals," he said. "We don't see the need, then, of this nuisance legislation."
And Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said this kind of law would be "wasting the time of our police departments."
Pearce said the measure is not designed to make police become immigration enforcers. He said the measure, if it becomes law, would ensure that individual officers have the ability to pursue cases in which they believe people are here illegally, even if all they do is to call ICE.
But Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said nothing in the law now bars officers from notifying federal officials of people they suspect are illegal entrants.
"This takes it a step further," he said. "It gives them a whole 'nother layer of responsibility," Gallardo continued, which would create more work for police who should be fighting crime.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, countered that police are now blocked from using their judgment because of local "sanctuary" policies, which he said tie the hands of officers.
"During the course of a routine patrol, arrest or summons, they should be able to pursue the immigration status of anybody they have reason to believe is here illegally," Kavanagh said. "If they would do this, we would have plenty of enforcement, and we would be removing many dangerous criminals from our streets.
"Let's give the local cop on the street the authority to use his instincts and his training to take care of this problem," he said. "Illegal immigration should not be exempt from scrutiny and good-faith efforts of our law-enforcement officials to crack down on this problem."
Submitted by EGH in El Paso.