Militia bill cruising, but objections are many
Published: April 2, 2012 at 7:46 am
Sen. Sylvia Allen says she’s sick and tired of excuses when it comes to solving the illegal immigration problem.
“Everybody just wants to sit around and gripe about it, complain about it, blame the federal government for it,” Allen said. “But when it comes to saying, ‘What can we do as a state to really try to solve the problem?’ Now it’s all the reasons why we can’t solve this problem.”
That’s why she introduced SB1083, which would create a volunteer militia that would patrol the state, pursuing and apprehending suspected illegal border crossers.
But despite Allen’s plea to stop focusing on the hurdles to securing the border, numerous criticisms of her plan have emerged, and not just from the Democrats who often oppose Republican-led anti-illegal immigration measures.
The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST), which oversees training for law enforcement officers in Arizona, opposes the bill because it would give the state’s stamp of approval to a minimally trained force that would have police-enforcement powers.
Lyle Mann, AZPOST’s director, testified during a committee hearing on the bill that the 40 hours of training proposed for the militia members is nothing compared to the 585 hours of baseline training any law enforcement officer in Arizona is required to have. That’s not to mention the additional specialized training officers receive for tasks like criminal pursuit in a vehicle, which the militia would be authorized to do.
Mann characterized Allen’s bill as a military-style group being put in a law-enforcement capacity, without any of the checks that should be applied to them. He said that if the group were authorized to only observe and report, his organization could possibly remove its opposition.
Mann also said there are serious problems with Allen’s proposal that the militia could be sent to areas 100 miles inside the border, along suspected border-crossing routes.
“The prime question is, how did they know these are cross-border criminals if they never saw these people crossing the border?” Mann questioned.
Giving the group the ability to detain, apprehend or even engage people so far inside the border, simply on the hunch that those people are border crossers could lead to numerous problems, especially since the state could potentially be liable for any mishandled actions.
Allen has defended the bill, saying that she expects many of the volunteers to be former police or former military members, so they would already have adequate training.
The bill would also pay for the militia by taking $1.4 million from a Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM) account, which already funds a joint law-enforcement team that goes after cross-border criminal activity.
That has caused opposition from the Association of Counties, which is made up of the state’s 15 sheriffs, since it would take away from the border enforcement they already participate in.
Among the sheriffs, only Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu supports the militia idea. And because each county would have to opt-in to allow the militia to operate there, it remains unclear where the militia would ever actually be mobilized.
And Arizona Cattlemen’s Association representative Patrick Bray testified that his group, which has long been at the forefront of the fight to secure the border, is opposed to the bill. The group cites liability issues that could come up if the militia mishandled its mission on his members’ private land.
Bray said it’s frustrating for him, because he and his group want to see a secure border and the elimination of the crime that comes with it, but that there’s a delicate balance about to how to approach the issue, he said.
The proper solution, he said, requires federal and local cooperation, like what happened with the National Guard deployment to the border in
2006 and through an expansion of the GIITEM program.