By TRAVIS GRABOW
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX — The only things keeping police from effectively enforcing immigration laws are political decisions by local politicians and police chiefs, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.
State Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, at which he and other officials said they want laws that will help police better addres illegal immigration.
(Cronkite News Service Photo by Travis Grabow)
“It’s nothing short of malfeasance of office,” state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said at a news conference. “I refuse to take it any more.”
Joined by elected officials including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Pearce said he plans to introduce a bill aimed at removing what he called barriers many law enforcement officers face when it comes to illegal immigrants.
Calling it the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act, Pearce said his plan would take away the ability of communities to bar police from identifying illegal immigrants and turning them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Among other things, it would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work as day laborers and make it a crime under state law for people to violate federal laws against illegal entry.
Pearce, who sponsored the state’s employer-sanctions law and other measures targeting illegal immigrants, said he also plans to introduce a ballot initiative in case the bill doesn’t become law.
“We’re gonna pass it, it’s gonna be the law and the message is gonna be loud and clear: We’re a nation of laws,” Pearce said. “You come into this state or this country, you come in legally. Otherwise you’ll be arrested and be deported.”
Arpaio, who recently had his authority to enforce immigration laws on the street taken away by federal officials, said states need to take more control of the issue.”This is very important to get the states involved and get these laws passed,” he said.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said the bill would be another in a series of important steps Arizona has taken to combat illegal immigration.
“The nation is watching us,” he said. “Unfortunately, the federal government is backtracking, undercutting our efforts here, and we’ve seen evidence of that recently.”
Elias Bermudez, founder and CEO of Immigrants Without Borders, said the Pearce’s plan would hurt all Hispanics and added that federal law already covers the areas it involves.
“I am deeply concerned that any further legislation is going to help those who don’t like undocumented people and then put police officers on the spot when they have to question somebody based on their appearance,” he said. “It leads to racial profiling; it leads to abuses.”