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Napolitano: Arizona’s New Immigration Law ‘Doesn’t Allow Law Enforcement’ To ‘Prioritize Public Safety’

By Andrea Nill Sanchez  

"Napolitano: Arizona’s New Immigration Law ‘Doesn’t Allow Law Enforcement’ To ‘Prioritize Public Safety’"

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This past Tuesday, the Arizona legislature passed what will probably end up being the toughest set of state immigration laws in the country. According to America’s Voice, the approved bill, entitled the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” would “make every undocumented worker in Arizona guilty of a criminal offense and require state and local police to go after them.” More specifically, it would allow police to arrest anyone who is in this country illegally and charge them with trespass, require police to attempt to determine the immigration status of anyone they encounter, outlaw the hiring of day laborers off the street, and prohibit anyone from knowingly transporting an undocumented immigrant for any reason.

Advocates are urging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) to veto the measure. On the Rachel Maddow Show last night, current Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary and former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, provided insight into why she choose veto at least two similar bills during her term as governor:

MADDOW: Your home state of Arizona this week has passed a very very strong anti-immigration bill. I think of it as the papers please bill. It compels police officers to demand papers from anyone they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant. It’s now a misdemeanor to not carry your immigration paperwork with you at all times in Arizona. Didn’t you veto something like that when you were governor there?

NAPOLITANO: I think I vetoed things like that at least twice. And I did because first of all, immigration is primarily federal — not exclusively, but primarily federal. But, secondly, it doesn’t allow law enforcement to focus on where law enforcement needs to focus and to prioritize the way law enforcement needs the ability to prioritize for the protection of the public safety. There were other reasons as well. But it was no surprise to me when I was governor of Arizona that by and large, law enforcement — the men and women who are in charge of protecting public safety — oppose legislation like that.

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In a letter accompanying one of the immigration bills Napolitano vetoed in 2006, the former governor described the legislation as “a weak and ineffective illegal immigration bill that offers complete amnesty to employers, violates the constitution, and is overwhelmingly opposed by law enforcement and top border elected officials in the state.” The “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” faces similar criticisms. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police strongly opposes it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona claims it “rewrite[s] the Constitution by turning the presumption of innocence on its head.” Arturo Venegas, director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, issued a statement accusing the Arizona legislature of “playing politics with public safety.” “By creating new mandates forcing police to track down undocumented immigrants, the bill will result in police spending less time keeping the streets free of violent criminals,” stated Venegas. Yesterday, Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead expressed additional concerns that the bill would require “people to prove their innocence” before even charged with a crime.

Milstead is also worried about the cost associated with the potential new laws. While the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency funds a six-week training course for police officers enrolled in their immigration policing program, Milstead’s police department — which is already pinching pennies as it faces a $6.4 million budget cut for the upcoming fiscal year — would be largely on its own. Milstead’s fiscal concerns are legitimate. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has built the latter part of his career out of going after undocumented immigrants, created a $1.3 million deficit in just three months as a result of his immigration-enforcement crusade. Meanwhile, violent crimes and homicides in his jurisdiction have gone up by 166%. And despite ICE’s training, Arpaio is still facing piles of racial profiling and discrimination law suits, a Department of Justice investigation, and a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. Arpaio has turned to taxpayers to cover his legal fees, asking the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for $7 million to pay his lawyers.

Gov. Brewer’s spokesman Paul Senseman ambiguously told the Arizona Republic today that the governor has not commented on this particular bill yet but “has a strong and consistent track record of supporting responsible immigration-enforcement measures.” Meanwhile, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has blasted the legislation, stating, “It will do exactly the opposite of what it intended to do — provide a secure Arizona.” “It drives companies away, it drives employees that are needed away, and it drives people who spend money away.”

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