FLAGSTAFF - Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, says Flagstaff's police chief is not honoring his oath of duty because his department doesn't check the immigration status of otherwise law-abiding residents.
Pearce spoke Saturday at a town-hall forum at the Flagstaff American Legion, an appearance he made after he read about Chief Brent Cooper's position on the issue.
Cooper could not be reached for comment Saturday. Cooper has said anyone arrested believed to be an illegal immigrant will be reported to federal authorities.
But, he said his officers won't perform immigration-related duties during traffic stops that don't result in arrests, or when taking witness statements or receiving complaints about the police department.
Pearce said at the forum that such a position is soft on immigration and that Flagstaff officials are pandering to the "open-border crowd."
"(Cooper) said he doesn't intend to enforce the law. He is not honoring his oath of duty," Pearce said. "Don't tell me when you are in a position of authority that you do not have authority. It simply is not true."
Pearce pointed to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, whose deputies ask people they pull over about their legal status and make an arrest if a person is an illegal immigrant.
Maricopa County deputies have received training that allows them to investigate the status of foreign nationals much like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
There is currently no ICE office in Flagstaff, although Cooper has said he supports one.
Pearce also praised the state's tough new employer sanctions law, which he wrote. The law requires employers to verify the legal status of their workers. Violators face losing their business licenses.
He said the law is responsible for causing some illegal immigrants to return to their home countries or to move to other states.