State legislators moved on two fronts Tuesday to bar politicians and the agency chiefs they appoint from blocking law enforcement officers from enforcing immigration laws.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 8-3 to outlaw any policies that keep any public employee from contacting federal immigration officials to see if someone with whom they are dealing is in this country legally. That would include not just people who are stopped by police but anyone who comes into a government building applying for benefits, services or licenses where being a legal resident is a condition.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, also gave SB 1162 some real teeth.
The legislation would allow anyone who believes a public official is ignoring the law to sue. If successful, the challenger would get all court and legal costs paid and the government entity would face a penalty of up to $5,000 for each day the violation remains in effect after being found illegal.
Separately, the House voted 38-21 in favor of HB 2331, which specifically would bar cities and counties from enacting or enforcing any laws or policies "intended to prohibit or effectively prohibits the lawful enforcement of United States immigration laws."
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said individual officers want to pick up illegal immigrants. But he said they are being thwarted by superiors or the elected officials to whom they report.
"No political body, be it a town council or a county board of supervisors or even this body, should be able to tell a police officer that they must turn their back and stay willfully blind to violations of the law," he said.
"That's not a politician's job," Kavanagh added. "Law enforcement should be above politics."
But Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, said there are good reasons that some communities, especially in southern Arizona, have policies that do not force police officers to start looking for illegal immigrants.
"In my district, in the south side of Tucson, we already have very real issues of trust between people and the police," he said. "And police departments, at least where I'm coming from in Pima County, have unanimously rejected this idea that somehow there should be limits on local control and how to decide interaction with federal authorities."
Patterson said while there is a problem with illegal immigration, "it demands a federal solution."
The Senate measure, crafted by Pearce, is broader than the House legislation.
Aside from the limits on what Pearce has called "sanctuary policies," SB 1162 also would make anyone in this state who is not in this country legally subject to arrest for trespass, whether on public or private property.
Pearce said the move would give police the right to hold someone as an investigative lead. He said Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever told him sometimes an officer from Customs and Border Patrol is so quick in responding to a scene that the illegal immigrant is processed and deported before deputies can decide if they need information from that person.
But Pearce said there's another benefit to the provision. He noted that some police departments claim they are legally powerless to enforce federal laws, including violations of immigration statutes, and can step in only if the person also is committing a state crime.
Pearce said he does not believe that is true, arguing all police officers have "inherent authority" to enforce immigration laws. But making the simple act of being here illegally a violation of state law, Pearce said, makes that whole debate moot.
The bottom line, he said, is getting state and local law enforcement in the fight.
Pearce called local policies against enforcing immigration laws "a political decision that harms our citizens, is responsible for the deaths and maimings of citizens and police officers, and is outrageous."
He also said the policies are unprecedented. "You can't tell me one other law on the books where we put conditions on our police officers (about) when they can ask and when they can act," he said.
"I'm not asking for roundups," Pearce added. "I'm asking for enforcement, to take the handcuffs that are on our law enforcement off."
Not a single local official showed up to testify in opposition to Pearce's legislation despite the fact that several communities have the kind of policies Pearce said his measure would outlaw.
In Tucson, for example, police officers are told not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses out of concern that it could chill their desire to cooperate. And both the police department and officials at Tucson Unified School District have agreed not to call federal immigration officials for incidents on campuses.
The trespass provision of SB 1162, which now goes to the full Senate, subjects first-time offenders to a possible six months in jail. In addition, they would be required to pay both jail costs and an extra $500 penalty; anyone caught and convicted again would face 2 1/2 years in state prison and a mandatory $1,000 fine.