Arizona police chief criticizes immigration law

By Tim Gaynor and Thomas Ferraro

PHOENIX/WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – The police chief of Arizona’s largest city said on Friday the state’s controversial new crackdown on illegal immigrants would likely create more problems than it solved for local law enforcement.

The remarks by Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris came as U.S. Senate Democrats vowed to push ahead with their uphill bid to pass legislation this year overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, saying the furor in Arizona has given them a lift despite a lack of support from Republicans.

Arizona’s week-old law calls for state and local police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. It has outraged Latinos, civil rights activists and organized labor.

With polls showing the crackdown has broad public support in Arizona and nationwide, Harris said at a news conference he understood Americans’ frustration over illegal immigration.

But he criticized the new law as unlikely to solve problems caused by any of the estimated 10.8 million people who are in the United States illegally.

“I don’t really believe that this law is going to do what the vast majority of Americans and Arizonans want, and that is to fix the immigration problem,” he said. “This law … adds new problems for local law enforcement.”

Harris said asking officers to determine immigration status during an investigation would interfere with their primary job and “instead tells us to become immigration officers and enforce routine immigration laws that I don’t believe we have the authority to enforce.”

The chief said his force already had 10 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in its violent crime unit and that the law provided no additional enforcement tools.

“We have the tools that we need to enforce the laws in this state, to reduce property crime and reduce violent crime, to go after criminals that are responsible for human smuggling,” and other border-related crimes,” Harris said.

Republican backers say the law is needed to curb crime in the desert state, which is home to some 460,000 illegal immigrants and is a furiously trafficked corridor for drug and migrant smugglers from Mexico.

Phoenix, the state capital and a clearing house for unauthorized immigrants and drugs headed to cities across the United States, has recently averaged one drug-related kidnapping nearly every day.

POLICE DIVIDED

Revealing stark divisions among police in the Phoenix valley over immigration, an Arizona sheriff known for cracking down hard on undocumented migrants continued a two-day immigration and crime sweep in the west of the city on Friday afternoon.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “crime suppression” drives have led to allegations of racial profiling. Deputies stopped and arrested at least 63 people for minor offenses who could not prove they were in Arizona legally since the operation began on Thursday.

In Washington, Democrats have been accused of playing election-year politics by proposing a comprehensive immigration overhaul that critics insist has little chance of success.

The Senate draft proposal, quickly endorsed by President Barack Obama, includes calls for bolstered border security, new sanctions on U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants and high-tech identification cards that all U.S. workers would be required to carry.

Senate Democrats appear to lack support from their Republican colleagues, however, and time is running out for legislative action before the November congressional election.

Republican Orrin Hatch, a member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said Americans did not trust Washington to solve the illegal immigration problem.

“Law-abiding immigrants, ranchers, farmers and families have no confidence that Washington can stop the drug traffickers, gangs and even those low-enough to traffic human beings from illegally coming into the United States,” Hatch said late on Thursday.

“Instead of fixing our broken borders, Washington politicos are playing a cynical game of introducing so-called immigration reform that I fear will turn into nothing more than amnesty,” Hatch said.

The uproar unleashed by the Arizona law has galvanized Latinos and is expected to translate into higher turnout at annual May Day rallies in more than 70 cities nationwide on Saturday.

Organizers say the crowds on the streets, from Los Angeles to New York, could be the biggest since 2006, when hundreds of thousands of marchers urged former President George W. Bush to overhaul federal immigration laws.

He tried, but was torpedoed by Republicans in Congress.

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(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Todd Eastham)

Arizona police chief criticizes immigration law