Tucson, Arizona Thursday, 1 August 2002

Officials wary of border policing

Feds may seek extra help from state, local agencies


Rules for using police to enforce federal immigration laws in certain situations go into effect Aug. 23, but Arizona's governor and local law enforcement officials said they are reluctant to have officers act as immigration agents.

The federal rules authorize the U.S. attorney general to enter into contingency agreements with state and local authorities for the use of police in the event the attorney general declares a "mass influx of aliens" or other immigration emergency in a given geographic area and time frame.

The definition of a "mass influx of aliens" would not be limited strictly to numbers but could include situations in which public safety or the safety of the illegal entrants is jeopardized.

Gov. Jane Hull had not yet seen the newly released regulation on Wednesday, but her spokeswoman, Francie Noyes, made it clear her boss has no intention of using state law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws.

"She has believed all along that it is up to the federal government to beef up their forces on the border. That it is up to them to handle this. That is the approach she feels is correct," Noyes said.

Critics, including Isabel Garcia of the Tucson-based group Derechos Humanos, say the definition about under what circumstances police officers would be called to enforce immigration laws is vague and places too much authority in the hands of the attorney general.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the new rules July 24.

Garcia said the plan is a thinly veiled attempt to extend the Border Patrol's expansive search-and-seizure authority to local police, making it more likely that people of color will be racially profiled, harassed and abused.

"To now set about in a willy-nilly fashion to deputize local officers, giving them extraordinary powers without any real concern for issues like training, supervision and liability . . . would be a major mistake and a major setback for those of us living in border states and other areas where there are people of color," Garcia said.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said aspects of the new regulations trouble him.

He said law enforcement departments would be irresponsible not to cooperate with the federal government when there is an emergency involving national security or terrorism.

But Dupnik aded, "As a general rule, I wouldn't want our people certified as having the authority of a Border Patrol officer."

Dupnik said that before he would commit to participating, "somebody would have to define for me what a 'mass influx of aliens' is. Somebody could say we have a mass influx now."

The rule defining when local police agencies would be asked to enforce immigration laws has intentionally been left vague, said Ronald W. Dodson, a supervisory special agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C.

This will allow local and federal authorities the flexibility to respond to an immigration emergency, not "the routine traffic across the southern border by those people trying to enter without inspection," he said.

"What this anticipates is that, in the event of a massive influx of aliens, local law enforcement resources may be necessary to augment what are very limited INS resources in a area.

"We don't anticipate this situation along the southern border because we have substantial resources there."

Dave Stoddard, a former U.S. Border Patrol supervisor turned immigration reform activist, said the definition provided by the rule sounds like what is happening in Southern Arizona every day.

He rejected Garcia's "Chicken Little" arguments saying they ignore "data that show up to 1 million people a year enter the U.S. through Cochise County. Public safety is certainly threatened, and people are literally dying."

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said the rules are the clearest acknowledgement to date that the "INS is either not willing or capable of doing their job."

For the INS to ask local government to bear the cost of the federal government's failure to perform its duty is absurd, he said.

But if the federal government won't act, then someone has to, Dever said, "and if that means the sheriff has to step in with this authority then so be it," because it's time for something to be done.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said he supports the Border Patrol's mission and is prepared to cooperate with any federal agency on issues involving terrorism and domestic security, but he won't be making any agreements committing his officers to immigration enforcement effort.

"We're spinning our wheels," Estrada said. "I think we're looking at a problem that's much bigger than what this little agency can do in enforcing federal law.

"There has to be more than just enforcement and putting people along the border, there has to be some kind of long-range plan," he said.