A Paradise Valley Republican says she’s found a way to let state and local police round up illegal immigrants: Arrest them for trespassing in Arizona.
Sen. Barbara Leff said her legislation would finally give police the legal tools they need to stop, question, detain and arrest — or deport — those who cross the border illegally.
She also has companion measures to give $75 million to border counties for more officers, prosecutors and judges, and another $70 million to build and operate more prisons for those arrested. Leff said the goal is to help apprehend people not stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol. "It would give us a second line of defense,’’ she said.
Rep. Ben Miranda, DPhoenix, questioned the legality. Leff conceded she knows of no other state that has tried this approach. But she said the proposal has been reviewed by several lawyers.
"Until it gets challenged in court, then we say that it’s legal,’’ she said.
As crafted, SB1157 says a person who entered this country in violation of federal law is guilty of trespass by being "on any public or private land in this state.’’
But Leff said she doesn’t envision police officers and sheriff’s deputies using the new law to conduct sweeps.
"My goal in this legislation is not to go into people’s homes, not to go into people’s schools and not to go into people’s businesses,’’ she said. "My goal is to focus on stopping people as they cross that border, before they get to the highway.’’
Leff said that is why her $75 million funding proposal in SB1158 provides cash solely for border counties specifically to enforce the new law. And the companion measure for new prisons, SB1159, requires the state Department of Corrections to cooperate with border county officials to figure out where to put the new facilities.
The proposal has the endorsement of Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, whose agency has been on the front lines of the immigration issue for decades.
"We come across people . . . who are here illegally that the Border Patrol either can’t or won’t deal with,’’ he said. Dever said the proposal to create a state crime comes "out of sheer frustration and desperation and our understanding that something needs to be done.’’
Under the terms of SB1157, police would be required to fingerprint those they arrest. But it would also give officers the option, on a first offense, to simply deport them or turn them over to a federal agency.
Otherwise, a first offense is punishable by up to a year in prison; subsequent violations can bring a 2 1 /2-year prison term.
There is an exception: It would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison for those arrested who have drugs, weapons, items that can be used for terrorism or chemicals that can be used to manufacture methamphetamines.
Last year, state lawmakers approved — and Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed — a different approach: Letting state and local police enforce federal immigration laws. That measure was opposed by several police agencies that said they did not want their officers seen as a threat to illegal entrants.
"If they’re victims of crime, we want them to report it,’’ said Sgt. Mark Robinson of the Tucson Police Department.
But Leff said that amounts to a policy of ignoring the issue. "The problem is that you can’t just keep doing a wink and a nod,’’ she said. "Either it’s illegal to be in this country illegally or it’s not.’’