Mesa cops rebuff immigration check plan

Jason Massad
East Valley Tribune
December 17, 2007
Mesa’s rank-and-file police officers say a recent proposal to have them check suspects’ immigration status in city jails should not be extended to the streets.
Although police expressed support for cross-training to enforce federal immigration laws inside city jails, they said targeting areas of Mesa that tend to draw illegal immigrants looking for work simply isn’t possible for a police department already skimping on officers to fight serious crimes, Mesa Police Association President Fabian Cota said.
“I would not favor it from a standpoint of resources,” Cota said. “We don’t have officers for our primary issue, which is crime-fighting.”
The Mesa City Council and police Chief George Gascón last week supported sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff that inquired about cross-training officers in Mesa’s jail to act as immigration officers.
The additional training could allow a handful of Mesa’s jailers to check the legal status of those suspected of crimes. The officers would be able to flag and help deport illegal migrants processed through the city’s holding facility.
Mesa’s decision came on the heels of discussion in Phoenix to revamp that city’s largely hands-off policy on immigration. Meanwhile, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been conducting raids in Mesa on suspected illegal immigrants.
Cota and Bryan Soller, head of Mesa’s Fraternal Order of Police, said that they support a limited policy of cracking down on illegal immigrants who are suspected of committing crimes. However, expanding the program beyond that raises serious questions for an understaffed police force, they said.
“We’ve been doing a lot more with less, and it’s kind of to the breaking point,” Cota said. “Then in walks this immigration issue. You want us to do more; well, we can’t do any more.”
Mesa already works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in cases where drop houses holding suspected illegal immigrants are raided, and when vans transporting suspected illegal immigrants are pulled over by local police, Soller said.
Cota said that the Mesa police force already needs up to 300 new sworn officers to bring the city up to a per capita ratio comparable to other major metropolitan areas. Mesa has 850 sworn officers on the force or in training.
Meanwhile, the city has a 28-bed holding facility downtown. Holding people suspected of being illegal migrants could clog up the undersized facility and lead to untold costs associated with housing them either in Mesa’s facility or the county jail in Phoenix until they could be processed by ICE.
“I don’t think Mesa can afford to get into this battle,” Soller said. “If we start overloading our jails, that’s going to overload everything. There would be no room to put real criminals in jail.”

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