WASHINGTON – Arizona’s new immigration law and similar proposals in other states would lead to an increase in crime, some police chiefs from around the country told Attorney General Eric Holder in an hourlong meeting May 26.
The chiefs told the attorney general that having to determine whether a person is in the United States illegally will break down the trust that police have built in communities and will divert law enforcement resources away from fighting crime.
If that happens, “we will be unable to do our jobs,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. “Laws like this will actually increase crime, not decrease crime.”
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said the requirements of the new law are so burdensome that “we doubt the federal government can even handle the numbers of people we will bring to them” on immigration status.
The new law “puts Arizona law enforcement right in the middle” at a time when police budgets are already in crisis, said John Harris, president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.
On May 24, the FBI reported that both violent crime and property crime dropped dramatically last year, a trend the police chiefs said could be imperiled if immigration is added to law enforcement’s responsibilities.
The Obama administration is weighing a possible court challenge to the Arizona law and “the attorney general said he would be making decisions fairly quickly,” though he did not elaborate, said Harris, who is police chief in Sahuarita, Ariz.
The chiefs, who spoke to reporters after the meeting with Holder, said the subject of filing a lawsuit never came up.
Holder has expressed reservations about the new law, saying it could lead to racial profiling. Three weeks ago, the Justice Department’s civil rights division head told some Arizona leaders that DOJ staff is analyzing the potential effects of the new state law.
The other police chiefs in the meeting were from Philadelphia, Houston, Minneapolis, San Jose, Salt Lake City and Montgomery County, Md. The meeting was facilitated by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., organization of self-described progressive police executives from the largest city, county and state law enforcement agencies.
Arizona immigration law empowers police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. It faces five lawsuits, including two from individual police officers, and two people filed paperwork this week to begin gathering signatures for separate ballot measures opposing the law.
Two previous proposals for ballot measures were abandoned, one because backers weren’t confident they could win the issue in November. The other was scrapped because its backers feared voter support for the law would trigger constitutional protections and prevent future changes by lawmakers.
The Arizona law goes into effect July 29.