Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley has taken a clear policy break from his predecessor when it comes to confronting illegal immigration.
Romley on May 19 outlined a new plan that will shift the office’s resources to focus on prosecuting criminal syndicates and drug cartels instead of undocumented immigrants.
“All undocumented workers are not the same,” Romley said as he made a distinction between those whose sole offense is to be in the country illegally and those who are committing serious crimes.
The county attorney’s office has developed a four-pronged approach to tackling the problem. It’s smarter and more effective, he said.
Romley said the policies of his predecessor – Andrew Thomas, who resigned to run for state Attorney General – left a vacuum exploited by criminals and organized crime groups.
As an illustration of the policy shift, Romley said once the state’s new immigration law takes effect on July 29, his office won’t be charging those who are arrested under the law for smuggling themselves into the country.
“There will no longer be conspiracy to smuggle yourself after July 29,” he said, adding the Legislature made it a misdemeanor offense in S1070 to be in the country illegally.
Under Romley’s four-pronged plan, the office will:
• Create an Organized Crime Division that will focus on human smuggling, drug trafficking, gun running and other violet crime.
• Collaborate and share intelligence with other border states.
• Work with Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to develop standards of enforcement.
• Will create a Business Certification Program, where companies that get the certification are presumed to be in compliance with the state’s employer sanctions law.
The unveiling of the plan came on the heels of harsh criticisms from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio against Romley over the county attorney’s handling of a case involving 32 undocumented workers arrested by the sheriff’s deputies.
Romley asked for federal records to prove the suspects’ legal status, something that Thomas, the previous county attorney, never required.
During the press conference, Romley called Thomas’ past practices “sloppy” and “lazy.”
He said to prove those cases in court, there needs to be certification from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that they were in the country illegally.
But Arpaio said it takes days to get verification from ICE.
“He knows you have to kick them loose within 24 hours,” Arpaio said, which means no one would ever be charged under Romley’s requirements.
Arpaio also subscribed political motivations behind Romley’s actions. The sheriff said Romley was appointed by the county supervisors, who regularly clash with Arpaio and disapprove of Arpaio’s approach to immigration.
“He is satisfying all these people who do not like us enforcing the illegal immigration laws,” Arpaio said.
The sheriff said he won’t back down from his immigration efforts.
“If he wants to let them out of the back door, that’s something the people of Maricopa County would have to look at,” Arpaio said in reference to the upcoming election for County Attorney.
Romley said he can’t tell the sheriff what to do. If Arpaio “meets the standards” for charging a case, Romley said his office would go forward with it.