Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is accusing Gov. Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard of ignoring a new state law against human smuggling that’s intended to impede illegal immigration.
Thomas said in letters hand-delivered Tuesday, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Public Safety won’t join him in enforcing the criminal statute that went into effect Aug. 12. Thomas has created a prosecution unit within his office dedicated solely to prosecuting "coyotes," or human smugglers, saying the new law is "too important of a tool to sit and gather dust."
"We stand ready to prosecute," Thomas said at a news conference where he also announced he will hold a conference in November in Scottsdale to discuss illegal immigration.
Thomas said he decided to send the letters after reading a news story in which spokesmen for several police agencies were quoted as saying they aren’t going to prosecute coyotes because of a lack of resources. Thomas, a Republican, has frequently criticized the approaches of Napolitano and Goddard, who are Democrats.
Napolitano hinted Tuesday that Thomas was seeking publicity instead of solutions, because he didn’t give her a chance to read his letter before meeting with the media to outline his complaints. The governor signed the human smuggling statute while she vetoed several other Republican-sponsored measures related to immigration enforcement.
"If you ever come across information suggesting that a DPS officer has declined to enforce this statute, I hope you will immediately present such facts to my office’s attention," Napolitano wrote in her reply.
DPS spokesman Rick Knight said his agency’s 1,100 officers will enforce the law when they see it being broken, but they have typically called in the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they suspect they’ve come across human smugglers.
"It’s important to point out that an officer on the side of the road doesn’t have the training and doesn’t have the experience in dealing with human trafficking and the complexities of building a case for that," Knight said.
Goddard said his office will prosecute cases as they come in, but he isn’t going to create a special unit.
"Mr. Thomas seems to be more interested in attacking other law enforcement than on focusing on the problem," said Goddard, whose office has collected millions of dollars in coyote assets over the years through civil seizures.
Thomas said he called the November conference so people with competing ideas on stopping illegal immigration can face each other. He called Napolitano’s July summit on illegal immigration in Flagstaff an "amen corner."
"Here, we’re going to have an honest debate," Thomas said.
After the legislative session ended in May, Napolitano called an immigration enforcement summit, which she says started a dialogue about more cooperation with federal officials.