Key state lawmakers are going to try to get into today’s immigration summit despite warnings from the Department of Public Safety they are not welcome — and will be turned away.
Senate President Ken Bennett said legislators should not be kept out of the meeting of more than 100 federal, state and local law enforcement and criminal justice workers. And Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, a leading legislator in the fight against illegal border crossing, said lawmakers need to be involved in crafting any solutions to the problem.
"I have a right to be there,’’ Pearce said. "This is public policy.’’
Pearce, a former Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy, said he does not intend to be disrespectful. But he said he also does not intend to drive to Flagstaff only to be turned away.
"I’m used to putting handcuffs on people,’’ he said. "But I’m willing to wear them if that’s what it takes.’’
David Felix, the deputy DPS director, said he hopes it does not come to that. But Felix said that any outsider who shows up, whether a state legislator or member of Congress, will be politely — but firmly — denied admission.
DPS Director Roger Vanderpool said this isn’t meant as a public forum.
"It is unfortunate that several elected officials are attempting to distract the focus from our first real, substantive meeting with statewide law enforcement and the federal government regarding immigration,’’ he said.
Vanderpool said federal agencies agreed to participate only with restrictions on attendance. He said that is because the conference will deal with "sensitive, homeland security-related issues.’’
But Pearce brushed that aside, saying there is no reason to believe that legislators can’t keep confidential information to themselves.
Part of the problem may be that DPS has been sending mixed signals.
Rep. Kirsten Sinema, DPhoenix, said she sent a note to DPS saying she would attend. Sinema said she got back not only an updated agenda and map of the campus — but even an offer to get a ride from Phoenix on a shuttle.
Felix said this isn’t political: Sinema also will be denied admission.
Gov. Janet Napolitano called the conference after vetoing legislation earlier this year that would have permitted state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.
The governor said the bill was opposed by virtually every police department. But she said there may be some legitimate role for law enforcement.
Several Republicans have charged that today’s conference is designed largely to give the governor political cover.
"This summit is shaping up to be a farce worthy of Monty Python,’’ Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas complained Monday. He said the program does not include anyone who publicly supported legislation that would have permitted local police to enforce federal immigration law.