Ruling on immigration law expected to have little effect on law enforcement locally
For Yuma County's law enforcement agencies, Monday's U.S. Supreme Court announcement striking down three provisions in Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law will have little to no effect on the way they handle the status of suspects who may be in the country illegally.
“It's still pretty much going to be business as usual,” said Capt. Eben Bratcher, of the Yuma County Sheriff's Office. “It changes nothing in regard to how we conduct our day-to-day operations, and how we have been doing it for years.”
According to Bratcher, while the court struck down three provisions of the law, it was unanimous on allowing the immigration status check to go forward. The provisions that were struck down were: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job, and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Law enforcement cannot implement the ruling until the original 2010 injunction is lifted by the 9th Circuit Court.
Bratcher explained the reason he doesn't think there will be any impact is that area law enforcement agencies have always been fortunate enough to work closely with a federal agency here that has the authority to enforce the country's immigration law — the Yuma Sector Border Patrol.
“We interact with the Border Patrol on a daily basis, often times many times each day,” Bratcher said.
Sgt. Ernesto Lugo, spokesman for the San Luis Police Department, asked the community not to become overly concerned about the court's approval of the immigration checks.
“The truth is that we still don't have a complete idea about how this is going to be enforced. We wait for an interpretation that the the city attorney will give us, but until then, we want to tell the community that we are not going out on the streets looking for undocumented immigrants,” Lugo said. “This is a very controversial subject, above all for those of us who take care of a community that is almost entirely Hispanic. But we have to wait to see who the law is going to be enforced. One thing that is clear that this being a law, we will have to enforce it. We live in a land of laws.”
Sgt. Clint Norred, of the Yuma Police Department, explained that whenever a police officer of sheriff deputy anywhere in the county, no matter which agency they are from, makes a routine contact with someone and there are questions about that person's immigration status, they always contact the Border Patrol.
“Their agents come out and make the determination about the person's legal status in the country,” Norred said. “It's not something we do.”
Norred said the law has several provisions that allow officers and deputies to ask questions about legal status, but if the person shows state, federal or tribal identification law enforcement must assume that person is legally in the country unless they believe the identification is fraudulent.
Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas, however, is much more worried, saying he is concerned that it can lead to racial-profiling. He added that police officers need to do their jobs with care when they stop someone to check their status because there is always the potential for it to be abused “by officers with anti-immigrant sentiments.”
“That's another risk I see. In any (police) agency there are some of them, and they can take advantage of this, to abuse people on the pretext of a traffic stop,” Porchas said. “I would recommend that people bring a recorder in their car, or use a cellphone to tape what an officer says when they are stopped. That could be a good way to defend themselves in case of an abuse to remind the officers to be careful in their treatment of people.”
Saying the Somerton Police Department has barely enough officers to handle other law enforcement obligations as it is, Porchas added he is also worried about officers not being able to fulfill these duties due to being required to do immigration checks.
“We estimate it takes an officer about two to three hours to take care of a case like this. It's not just a matter of detaining a person and turning him over. The officer has to take him to a place of detention until the Border Patrol arrives, because we can't hold them in a patrol care. Beside that, the officer has to fill out the necessary reports,” Porchas said. “The time it takes an officer to enforce 1070 will be time taken away from doing patrols and providing for the safety of the community.”
David Lara, a San Luis businessman and community activist and Republican candidate for Yuma County supervisor disagrees, saying police involvement in immigration affairs is nothing new and that doing immigration checks should not mean any additional demands on police agencies.
“They have already been doing it with Operation Stonegarden. The curious thing is that the Hispanic leaders have misinformed the people, have take advantage of people's fears, saying that it's an attack by the Republicans against immigrants,” Lara said. “It's a lie. For many years in the county, police have collaborated with the Border Patrol. It happens in San Luis and throughout the county. 1070 will always be a controversial subject, but the law has to be respected.”
State Rep. Russ Jones also said he doesn't see the Supreme Court's ruling having a major impact in Yuma County, especially due to local police agency's long history of working with the Border Patrol. He also added that because of infrastructure improvements made in the Yuma Sector along the U.S./Mexico border in recent years many immigrants no longer cross through Yuma County. And those that do don't stay here very long before heading for other areas.
And contrary to Porchas, Jones doesn't foresee the need for increases in funding to police agencies to enforce the law.
Although the law is nothing new to the region, Bratcher and Norred foresee the need for police agencies to still undergo some training to be able to enforce the provisions that were upheld, especially the other counties elsewhere in the state where there is no Border Patrol presence.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.