A House panel has approved a bill that would prevent cities, counties and police departments from prohibiting law enforcement officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.
The move was praised by the head of a local police union, who said policies in Phoenix and other cities limit the ability of police to contact the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they suspect someone is an illegal immigrant.
“They trust us with guns, they trust us with pursuits. We can be trusted with a phone call,” said Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
The bill, H2384, would give discretion to police officers, said Rep. Tom Boone, the measure’s sponsor. He said the only mandate in it is given to cities and law enforcement agencies, not individual officers.
“What I’ve tried to do is strike the balance between having no prohibitions and having strict prohibitions (on enforcement),” said Boone, a Peoria Republican.
Democrats on the panel questioned if there was a need for the bill, saying all Arizona law enforcement agencies already had procedures in place to hand illegal immigrants over to ICE.
And this bill doesn’t prioritize that officers go after “serious crimes” like child molestation before illegal immigrants, said Phoenix Democrat Ben Miranda.
The committee approved the bill 5-3. After a check for constitutionality, it will be sent to the floor to be considered by the entire chamber.
H2384 is intended to eliminate “sanctuary cities,” a description critics have given to cities and agencies that don’t enforce federal immigration laws. But it is not as rigid as other bills that have been introduced this year.
One such bill, S1070, is sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican, who has been at the forefront of creating laws to stop illegal immigration. His measure would, among other things, require all government employees – not just law enforcement officers – to verify the legal status of anyone they come in contact with during their official job duties if they suspect the person may be in the United States illegally.
The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed Pearce’s bill when it was heard in committee on Jan. 20.
Spencer told the House Judiciary Committee officers wanted discretion, not a mandate.
“Our goal is not to engage in routine immigration enforcement,” he said. “We like our blue uniforms. If we wanted green ones, we’d go down and get hired up with the feds.”