TUCSON - The Pima County sheriff wants a U.S. Border Patrol agent assigned to a new border crimes unit and deputized to enforce local and state laws.
Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is asking county supervisors to sign off on the plan, but faces opposition from an immigrant rights group that fears racial profiling.
Sheriff's officials say adding the agent to its newly formed border crimes team will give deputies better access to Border Patrol intelligence and allow better coordination and quicker response. They said the department has no plans to enforce immigration law.
"We are not focusing on people's immigration status," sheriff's Bureau Chief George Heaney said. "That is not our mission. Our mission is to focus on criminal activity - murder, rape, robbery, drug smuggling, assault."
Heaney said having an agent deputized gives all the law enforcement officers the same tools. The agent will still be paid by the federal government, wear a Border Patrol uniform and use a Border Patrol vehicle.
Current plans call for just one agent, but an agreement between the Border Patrol and county set to be considered by supervisors Tuesday refers to plural "agents."
Kat Rodriguez, a member of the immigrant rights group Derechos Humanos, said she was worried about the plan.
"So now Border Patrol can stop people for anything," Rodriguez said. "You ran a red light or your tags aren't in order or whatever. That will institutionalize racial profiling. There is no other result I can see for this."
There is at least some trepidation on the board as well.
"I'm very concerned about the precedent it sets," Supervisor Richard Elias said. "I don't feel comfortable at all, but we'll just have to see what the sheriff has to say on Tuesday."