The deportation of three teenagers caught drag racing in Gilbert has spurred the mayor and a Town Council member to push for a policy to turn over all illegal immigrants caught violating the law to federal authorities.
“It’s my goal to make sure the illegal aliens understand this is not the town they want to come to,” Mayor Steve Berman said. “They’re going to catch them, and send them home.”
Councilman Don Skousen said he also wants local police
to work more closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when law violators are apprehended.
Both said their proposal would involve educating officers to know how to deal with immigration laws — but would not mean profiling, or stopping someone who is not violating a law or ordinance.
If Gilbert adopts such a policy, it would be the first municipality in the East Valley to do so.
The issue comes up after Jaime Cisneros, 16, was arrested March 10 after police said he revved his engine and then drove his 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse more than 20 miles over the speed limit on Guadalupe Road.
After he revealed to police that he carried a Mexican ID card, federal authorities were contacted and immigration officials deported him and two passengers, Johany Nafarrate, 17, and Omar Galvez-Alejandro, 16.
Since that incident, town officials have received more than 30 letters from Gilbert and around the state supporting their action.
This isn’t the first time Berman has spoken out on illegal immigrants breaking the law in his town.
Last year, he fought to strengthen penalties for redlight runners after an illegal resident struck and killed 21-year-old Ricky E. Smith.
It’s unfair, he repeated Thursday, that the driver in that case was fined only $1,000 — and not arrested or deported.
But Town Manager George Pettit pointed out that booking every illegal immigrant stopped for speeding could be expensive.
Gilbert’s Presiding Judge David Phares said illegal immigrants who are deported after they violate a town ordinance often can’t pay their jail costs, which include a $165 booking fee and $63 for each day in jail. And, he added, “If we arrest them only because they’re illegal, then we’re not going to assess jail costs.”
Berman said he was also concerned about costs, but his goal is to have illegal residents avoid Gilbert.
“The fact is, the state Legislature has failed the citizens in terms of dealing with illegal immigration,” he said. “The state Legislature, unfortunately, has too much power and not enough adult supervision.
Tami Smull, chairwoman of Gilbert’s Human Relations Commission, said she could not speak for the commission but personally opposes Berman’s proposal. If such a policy were in place, she said, illegal residents would be afraid to go to the police to report crime or act as witnesses.
Vice Mayor Dave Crozier said he would prefer the federal government become more involved in policing illegal immigration, but supports the actions of the Gilbert police officers regarding the Mexican teenagers.
“I don’t think just because somebody has an Hispanic heritage, that they should worry about being racially profiled,” he said. “And I don’t think our police would do that. I don’t want to venture down that path.”
East Valley police policies, including Gilbert’s, give officers the discretion to contact immigration officials when a crime is committed but not for minor offenses such as traffic violations.
And many times, the question of legal status is not asked of people being questioned about a crime, East Valley police officials said.
East Valley communities generally require police to contact federal immigration authorities when a crime involves trafficking of illegal immigrants.
Mesa in January abandoned a proposal to cross-train police as immigration officers to battle illegal immigration. One concern involved legal ramifications of having such a policy.
In Phoenix, federal immigration officers have begun working with police investigators to solve violent crimes involving illegal immigrants — but that doesn’t change the city’s policy of allowing police discretion to contact immigration authorities for certain crimes. Phoenix is considering a program to train police on how to help prosecute immigration offenses.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is the only agency currently enforcing the state law against human smuggling, arresting 470 illegal immigrants based on their illegal status since March 3, 2006.