The immigration situation: P1 Members speak out

SB 1070, Arizona’s recently passed legislation cracking down on illegal immigration, has national — even global — implications

President Obama has announced plans to send National Guard troops — and a half a billion dollars — to the Mexican border. Various cities with Major League Baseball teams have encouraged their citizens to boycott travel to Phoenix for the MLB All Star Game. Sheriff Joe Arpaio has encouraged residents of his state to boycott tourism in Mexico. At the root of this dust-storm is the matter of illegal immigration and Arizona’s recently passed legislation — Ariz. SB 1070 — affecting the role of police officers in that state on the issue of immigration enforcement. Unless legal challenges against it are successful, the Arizona law takes effect almost exactly one month from today (June 29, 2010).

Just under two weeks ago, we posted a news article from Associated Press reporter Jonathan Cooper with the opening line, “Arizona’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration is dividing police across the nation, pitting officers against their chiefs and raising questions about its potential to damage efforts to fight crime in Hispanic communities.”

Within days, that article garnered nearly 100 comments from Police1 members — the overwhelming majority of those comments were in enthusiastic support of the Arizona law. But opposition among law enforcers does exist. For example, on Wednesday, police chiefs from a handful of states — including Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck, San Jose, Calif. Police Chief Rob Davis,Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, and Sahuarita, Ariz. Police Chief of Police John W. Harris — flew to Washington D.C. for an hourlong, closed-door meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder. Their message: Arizona’s new immigration law will divert law enforcement resources away from fighting crime.

Phoenix police officer David Salgado looks out over the Phoenix skyline Monday, May 17, 2010. Salgado, an opponent of the new immigration law in Arizona, has sued the city of Phoenix and the governor over the measure.
Phoenix police officer David Salgado looks out over the Phoenix skyline Monday, May 17, 2010. Salgado, an opponent of the new immigration law in Arizona, has sued the city of Phoenix and the governor over the measure. (AP Photo)

Further, Phoenix police officer David Salgado, an opponent of the new immigration law in Arizona, has sued the city of Phoenix and the governor over the measure. “It’s not my job to split up families,” Salgado has been quoted as saying. Regarding his perception of the ability of officers to get assistance from the Hispanic community in solving crimes he adds, “I guarantee you that we will not get help” once the law takes effect.

Meanwhile, a new opinion poll released last week by the Pew Research Center indicates that 59 percent of Americans approve of Arizona’s new law — according to Pew, only 32 percent disapprove.

Reporting on those poll results, the Associated Press said that specific provisions of the law are even more popular than the broad concept behind it. “Fully 73 percent endorse its provisions requiring people to show police officers documents proving their legal status when asked,” said one AP news report. “And 67 percent approve of police detaining anyone who can’t prove their legal status.”

In a separate report, the Associated Press said that, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, illegal crossings from Mexico into Arizona are on the rise, even as overall crossings to the U.S. are down almost ten percent this year compared to 2009.

According to one of my sources — a Political Action Committee called “Americans for Legal Immigration” — a total of 17 states are presently considering legislation akin to the Arizona law. Those states are Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

If nothing else, this means that what’s happening in Arizona will soon have at least some impact on law enforcement officers in nearly two fifths of our great country. If one were to look at it from a truly macro perspective, it could very logically be concluded that what’s happening in Arizona affects the entire nation. In fact, it actually has global implications. Don’t believe me?

I recently spoke on the phone with staff members at the Department of State’s Office of Consular Affairs — out of clear blue sky the Foggy Bottom Gang called me on my direct-dial line, a number that a not too many people outside of law enforcement have in their rolodex. They wanted to get the word out to cops about issues to keep in mind when you take any foreign national — whether they’re here legally or illegally — into custody. Here’s a hint: it’s a good idea to call that person’s consulate on the phone and let them know you’ve got one of their people. I’d bet a stack of green money that 99.99 percent of cops already know this, but it’s a good time for a reminder on the issue, so check out the letter to the law enforcement community from the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs on Consular notification of detained foreign nationals.

This is not the first time we’ve taken a dive into the deep end of the pool on this issue. Recall that in July 2009, Police1 Legal Columnist Terry Dwyer examined the issue of immigration enforcement by local police and we launched a special news page on the issue earlier this year.

None-the-less, immigration enforcement is an issue that needs more — and more levelheaded — attention than it’s been getting in the national mainstream media. Consequently, a couple of my columnists — Betsy Brantner Smith and Dan Marcou — address the matter in special features today, and I agreed to run the aforementioned Op-Ed piece from the State Department. In addition, I also polled you, the readers and members of Police1.

Jim Christian, who worked with the Tucson Police Department for almost 21 years — he retired as a Detective in 2005 — told me, “I was a Police Officer in Pima County, Arizona for 34 years. Everyone has exaggerated the 1070 law to the point that the discussion of it is ridiculous. If you read the law it is almost a copy of the federal law which prohibits illegal immigration. It only gives officers the right to ask a person’s immigration status in the course of their normal duties and not go checking the status of everyone who looks like they may be illegally in this country. That is racial profiling and it is illegal. When I first started in Law Enforcement we stopped illegal aliens and turned them over to the Border Patrol we got a box of ammunition from the BP for each alien. That was a pretty good deal and I wish I could get in on some of that action now. I could use some ammunition.”

Police1 member Larry Jenkins, a detective with the Monroe City (Mich.) Police Department, said in an email to me earlier this week, “The State has a right to protect its citizens and resources. I’m not against immigration as long as they go through the door and fill out the paper work. I’m in Michigan now and am retiring and moving to Arizona. From experience with migrants from other countries while working even here in Michigan, I agree with the law and have seen that the federal government needs assistance from the local governments to enforce and protect the boarders of this great nation. We are all in this together and if we as states can do something to help secure our land then I say yes, lets do it. I think that all the misleading news reports of checking for papers from just anyone for no reason other then “they look like illegals” shows great irresponsibility on the journalists part.”

Another Police1 member, Officer Erik Johannessen of Poplar, Montana, wrote, “It is a CRIME to be in this country illegally. Police Officers are sworn to uphold the laws of this land. If one of those laws says you have to be here legally, then asking for papers or proof in an area where illegal immigration is high, is not intrusive. If we know of a particular area where drugs are a big concern, officers will use more stringent measures in identifying and investigating persons in that area. I don’t see how these can be construed as civil rights violations, when it is entirely legal to require someone to identify themselves to a law enforcement officer. If we stop someone whom we believe committed a violent crime, and search them for weapons, that is not considered a violation because we have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime may have been committed. So we take measures to further investigate. If an officer stops a person — for something other than LOOKING illegal — and suspects they may not be a legal citizen, what is so different about further trying to identify them if the officer believes a crime (being here illegally) is occurring?

Police1 member Pat Rodgers, a retired Lt. most recently with the Irvine (Calif.) Police Department, wrote, “Remembering my early years with Costa Mesa Police Department in Orange County, California in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, we never had an illegal alien problem. Why, because we had zero tolerance for crimes of all types, Federal, State and Local. I personally made hundreds of arrests for Section 1325 of the United States Code, Being in the country Illegally. That was of course, before it became politically correct to look the other way. We hooked them and held them in our local jail and the Border Patrol sent up a van every day or two and picked them all up. What did we achieve, one might ask? Illegals knew they were not welcome in our City. We had no gangs — Mexican or otherwise — no drive by shootings, no hoards of illegals standing on the street corners interfering with local business, and traffic flow and no marches with protesters waiving Mexican flags. Were we Anti-Mexican? No, we were not. In fact, our Traffic Bureau had an exchange program with the Traffic Bureau of the Tijuana Police Department. They would send up their highly skilled Motorcycle Unit several times a year for local parades and we hosted them and their families. Then, several times a year we went to Tijuana as their guests and they hosted us. It was a great experience and I had some great friends in the Tijuana Traffic Police. I quickly discovered they were just like us, young Cops working a tough job while trying to raise and support a family. I suppose all those fine young cops are now old retired cops like myself, who have been put out to pasture. Those were the good old days.”

Officer Brian Meserole, a Police1 member with the City of Parker ( Texas ) Police Department, said to me in an email earlier this week, “I work for a small Texas city surrounded by some of the fastest growing cities in the state. Every day working traffic enforcement, I stop a high percentage of illegal persons. These drivers have no identification on their person. With our jail being a great distance, it is not smart to arrest everyone with no DL only to see the citation turn into another city warrant because the person gave false ID. With a law similar to Arizona’s, it would make these arrests more justified. It is not that difficult to understand the new law and its intention. Advocates love to toss the racial profiling around to deter the law. It’s not very hard to find out who is here illegally without profiling, whether the person is white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or even Asian. And if you can’t figure it out, you probably shouldn’t be a police officer due to poor investigative skills.”

Personally, I agree with Jack Dunphy — the “nom de cyber” of an anonymous LAPD cop — who wrote recently in the National Review that “anyone who knows how the police actually work would not be afraid of the Arizona law.”

Dunphy states further that under the Arizona law, police officers “are to make a reasonable effort to investigate the immigration status of persons who have been lawfully stopped and about whom there is reasonable suspicion to believe they are ‘unlawfully present in the United States.’ This vests too much discretion and authority in local police officers, say the law’s critics, ignoring the fact that police officers exercise such discretion and authority virtually every time they step out of their cars, and in the vast majority of cases do so properly.”

No matter where you stand on the matter, I’m of the firm belief that Police1 should be the forum for cops to interact and exchange ideas, so I encourage you to add your comments below.

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