Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Glendale police union backs Arizona's immigrant crackdown

by Dustin Gardiner - Apr. 20, 2010 08:27 AM
The Arizona Republic

One of Glendale's police officer unions is endorsing an effort by state lawmakers to give Arizona some of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

Senate Bill 1070 would make illegal immigration a misdemeanor offense under state law, allowing local law enforcement officers to detain individuals on suspicion of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce a valid government ID or registration card.

The bill is expected to head toward Gov. Jan Brewer's desk for a signature within the coming days.

Officer Justin Harris, president of the Glendale Law Enforcement Association, said the bill gives police, who are only charged with enforcing state laws, the power to detain undocumented immigrants and turn them over to federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents.

"It takes the handcuffs off law enforcement," he said. "Our hands are tied without these laws in place."

Harris said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa, approached GLEA and other police unions at the start of the legislative session to secure their support.

Opponents of the bill say it would promote racial profiling and prevent potential witnesses from coming forward or cooperating with police out of fear they could be deported.

"I get calls from mothers whose 15-year-old daughters get raped and they're afraid to call police," said Hector Yturralde, a Latino activist and former president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum.

"All these laws being passed are nothing but Jim Crow wannabes," he added, referring to laws in the Old South enforcing white supremacy.

Harris said the undocumented community has no reason to fear police will be overzealous to the point of arresting victims or witnesses.

"We're not going to treat the victim as a criminal," he said.

Given the budget cuts facing Glendale and other cities, Yturralde questions why police would use their limited resources to pursue people for "minor" immigration violations when they could be going after hardened criminals.

Harris argues that by taking illegal immigrants off the streets, police will be preventing future crimes they might commit.

He said someone who "sneaks past border agents through the desert and under fences" knows they're doing something illegal and is more likely to commit other crimes.

"If we can focus on stopping the less serious crime, that in itself stops crime," Harris said.

Yturralde said there's no clear evidence to support claims that illegal immigrants commit crimes in higher numbers.

"Not even the FBI has these statistics," he said. "This is absolutely insane."

Glendale's other law enforcement union, the Fraternal Order of Police, has not taken a position on the legislation.