Phoenix police will ask the immigration status of everyone they arrest or cite for committing a crime, under a new policy announced Friday.
The policy will affect people booked into jail, as well as those who are issued a citation and released on misdemeanor charges, said Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris.
If the arresting officer has reason to believe the suspect in a misdemeanor case is an illegal immigrant, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be notified under the new policy, which will take about 90 days to put in place, Harris said.
Under the department’s current policy, only people arrested for major felonies are questioned by Phoenix police as to their immigration status.
People stopped for most traffic violations, crime victims and witnesses will not be asked about immigration status under the policy, which was devised by four former prosecutors appointed by Mayor Phil Gordon in December to study the issue.
The new Phoenix policy will be stricter than the one used in Mesa, where ICE may be notified only if a person is arrested and booked into jail for a felony. The Mesa policy states that ICE should not be notified if a suspect is cited and released for a misdemeanor.
The practical impact of the new policy will be on people suspected of misdemeanor offenses but who are released with a citation that compels them to appear in court.
Anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony is booked into jail, where their immigration status is already checked by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
But for misdemeanor offenses such as shoplifting, petty theft and some traffic offenses, the officer has the discretion to issue a citation and let the suspect go.
Under the new Phoenix policy, each officer will ask the immigration status of a suspect before issuing a citation. If the officer believes the person may be in the country illegally, a form will be sent to ICE with the name given by the suspect, a description and court date. The officer will not detain the suspect until ICE agents arrive, Harris said. It will be up to federal authorities to follow up on the information, he said.
The immigration status of the suspect will only be a factor in deciding whether to issue a citation to the degree that the officer believes the suspect poses a flight risk and may not show up for court, Harris said.
The policy draws a sharp line between enforcing state and local laws and turning Phoenix police into immigration enforcement agents, which is the job of the federal government, Harris said.
“What I have been opposed to is having the Phoenix Police Department become immigration officers,” he said.
The new policy drew only tepid praise from Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who held a news conference Friday to declare it will not go far enough to crack down on illegal immigrants arrested in connection with crimes.
Arpaio said his deputies question anyone they believe has broken the law, including people stopped for traffic offenses, about their immigration status. If the officer believes a suspect is an illegal immigrant, that person should be held and turned over to ICE, he said.
Thomas said illegal immigrants are apt to give phony names and addresses when questioned by police. He also said sending a form to ICE when an illegal immigrant is stopped by police is a meaningless gesture.
The new Phoenix policy was drafted by a panel of former prosecutors appointed by Gordon to weigh the need for going after illegal immigrants who commit crimes against the need to avoid racial profiling or making immigrants afraid to report crimes, Gordon said. The panel included former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley, former state Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. Attorneys Paul Charlton and Jose Rivera.
Harris said the delay in implementing the policy is to allow time for the final language to be added to the department’s procedural manual and to train officers accordingly.
Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said in a written statement that the rank-and-file officers the police union represents were not given a “meaningful opportunity” to participate in the development of the new policy. He also said the union had not had time to study the recommendations and could not yet comment on them.