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Arizona police might not enforce Trump’s immigration orders

Arizona law enforcement agencies mostly say they won't participate in widespread immigration raids that target long-term undocumented immigrants no matter what President Donald Trump's new executive order says.

Citing limited resources and Arizona’s controversial history, many local and state law enforcement officials said they have no plans to amp up their immigration enforcement in light of a Trump's order.

The Phoenix, Tucson and Nogales police departments, and Yuma, Santa Cruz and Maricopa sheriffs say officers will not target long-term undocumented immigrants who have no violent felony offenses.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels clarified earlier remarks, saying his officers would not target people simply for being long-term undocumented residents, yet if they commit any crime, officers will turn them over to immigration officials.

Dannels said Cochise County pursues all lawbreakers equally.

“We’re not going to just target the illegals,” Dannels said. “Those [who] break the state law, we will charge them. Whether they are legally or illegally here.”

The Pima County Sheriff's Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about enforcement priorities under new Sheriff Mark Napier.

The executive order, which Trump signed Jan. 25, in addition to pushing for the immediate planning and construction of a border wall, directed the federal government to “empower state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer.”

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About 5 percent of Arizona's population — some 325,000 people — are undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

So Wednesday, when ICE jailed and promised to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 21-year-old, long-term undocumented immigrant who was brought to Arizona when she was 14, the decision startled her family and many immigrant right activists.

And the Phoenix Police Department is being very clear: it was not involved in the detention of Rayos. The department said it was only on the scene because of the protestors that came out en mass to support Rayos.

"The Phoenix Police Department does not target anyone and was not a part of any recent events involving undocumented immigrants with minor criminal offenses," Sgt. Jonathan Howard of the PPD said. "We will continue to enforce Arizona state laws, like identity theft and theft, but have no plans to implement a pro-active immigration enforcement squad."

Phoenix isn't alone. At the Tucson Women's March, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild made it clear that he will advise Tucson officers not to prioritize and seek out long-term undocumented immigrants, regardless of their minor criminal offenses.

The Nogales Police Department will not participate in the prioritization of long-term undocumented immigrants, according to its public information officer, Christina Bermudez.

"Nothing will change here," Bermudez said about targeting long-term undocumented immigrants, even those with minor criminal offenses.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will not be targeting long-term undocumented immigrants with minor criminal offenses, either.

"We have received no specific directives from Department of Homeland Security regarding the executive order," said Mark Casey, spokesman for MCSO, stating the sheriff will not target long-term undocumented immigrants. "While we will abide by both our constitutional duties and by the directives of the court, we will not be doing raids, nor will we tolerate targeting individuals because the color of their skin

Yuma County sheriff officials said nothing will change there either, saying they will not be prioritizing long-term undocumented immigrants with minor criminal offenses.

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Santa Cruz County sheriff officials oppose having their deputies act as immigration officers.

"I have not had any official order to start doing immigration work," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. "We are not immigration officers. We do not have the authority. I do not welcome that, and hopefully it is something that we will not have to do."

“As far as I’m concerned it’s business as usual unless some specific order or mandate comes up that changes the law that makes us immigration officers, and I think we’re a long way from that and that’s something we don’t need,” said Tony Estrada. Santa Cruz County encompasses 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, including Nogales.

Estrada said his department cooperates with Customs and Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents, who have a significant presence in his county. He said his deputies call Border Patrol if they have “reason to believe that an individual is in the country illegally.” But he said he simply doesn’t have the resources to enforce immigration law

Quentin Mehr, a state Department of Public Safety spokesman, said DPS does not plan for Arizona officers to search for undocumented immigrants. DPS will not be prioritizing long-term undocumented immigrants, as the executive order calls for.

Dannels said Cochise County pursues all lawbreakers equally.

"We're not going to just target the illegals," Dannels said. "Those [who] break the state law, we will charge them. Whether they are legally or illegally here."

Part of Trump’s order calls for a renewed push for 287(g) agreements, which are a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allow the Department of Homeland Security to deputize local and state law enforcement officers to act as federal immigration agents to investigate, apprehend and detain undocumented immigrants.

Seven Arizona law enforcement agencies had active 287(g) agreements in May 2008, according to ICE data, that allowed some departments to check immigration status in their jails and others to have immigration enforcement authority while patrolling the streets. Many of these agreements expired or were scaled back during the Obama Administration, leaving only four agencies in Arizona with active agreements today, according to ICE.

These agencies – Arizona Department of Corrections, Mesa Police, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office – only have authorization to check immigration status in their detention centers.

Three of the four departments with active agreements said they don’t anticipate expanding their 287(g) capabilities to allow immigration enforcement on the streets.

A spokesperson with the Mesa Police Department declined to be interviewed on the subject and did not respond to emailed follow-up questions by the time of publication.

Chief Deputy Matt Thomas of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said his county benefits from the 287(g) program in the jail.

“Rather than cycle people through our jail that are in the country illegally and have committed crimes we cycle them through and once we finish state charges, they are handed off to ICE to face the immigration charges,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of emotion around this particular topic but we’re really just trying, at the local level, to do our best for our citizens without infringing on people’s rights.”

The agencies that previously had active 287(g) agreements – Phoenix Police, the Department of Public Safety and Pima County Sheriff’s Department – said they do not have plans to resurrect those agreements after Trump’s order.

“We want crime victims and witnesses to feel comfortable reporting to police regardless of their residential status,” said Sgt. Jonathan Howard, a spokesman for Phoenix Police, in an emailed statement.

Phoenix's mayor went a step further Thursday, following large protests opposing the deportation of a Mesa mother who had lived in the U.S. for decades. She was detained Wednesday and deported to Mexico Thursday afternoon.

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“Rather than tracking down violent criminal and drug dealers, ICE is spending its energy deporting a woman with two American children who has lived here for more than two decades and poses a threat to nobody,” Stanton said Thursday. “It is outrageous, and precisely why as long as I am mayor, Phoenix will not participate in the 287(g) program or enter into any other agreements with the Trump Administration that aim to advance his mass deportation plans.”

A Gallup poll showed that two-thirds of Americans oppose deporting undocumented immigrants, and 84 percent are in favor of building a path to citizenship for long-term undocumented immigrants. Even over three-fourths of Republicans support a path to citizenship, according to the poll.

A CBS News Poll from Jan. 13-16, 2017, showed similar results, with a majority of respondents favoring a program for undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship.

"I don't think federal government has the right nor should they have the authority to tell us what to do with immigration," Estrada said.

SB 1070 rewind?

Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the ACLU Arizona, said Trump’s executive order evokes flashbacks to SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

“It was a dark and awful time for our state and what was so sad about this executive order was it really reminded me of that period in our history in 2010,” she said. “People were afraid and there was so much outrage.”

The state law went beyond the 287(g) agreements, which limited the enforcement to criminal task forces and excluded undocumented immigrants who hadn’t committed a crime from being affected. Being in the U.S. illegally is a civil offense.

But SB 1070, even after portions of the law were struck down by the Supreme Court, requires law enforcement making routine traffic stops or arrests to attempt to determine someone’s immigration status if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented.

The law was embraced by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which also dedicated extensive resources to 287(g) agreements under the previous sheriff, Joe Arpaio. In October 2016, he was charged with contempt of court after a judge said he intentionally defied orders to stop racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops and workplace raids conducted in search of undocumented employees.

“Arpaio for us, he’s the worst case scenario,” Soler said. “So when you start entering into these types of agreements it opens the door to racial profiling and other illegal practices, like prolonging the time of an arrest just to check someone’s status.”

Arpaio’s successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone, said in a statement his office would no longer conduct workplace raids, saying the practice was “an exaggeration of law enforcement resources and tactics.” Court monitors have been placed in the sheriff’s office to ensure their practices follow the rules of the court orders Arpaio incurred.

Casey, the MCSO, said the process for referring undocumented immigrants who are arrested to ICE is “very complex and very cumbersome and very slow which is a bad thing because it requires us and everyone to deliberate how we’re going about dealing with human beings.”

Penzone’s campaign centered around improving community relations, and Casey said he aims to correct previous wrongs.

“Our predecessor here engaged in wholesale racial profiling in the name of immigration enforcement the was taken to court and was found to be acting in a manner that is outside the law,” Casey said. “No matter where this ends up, we’re going to follow the law and court orders and treat people humanely and with respect no matter what their culture or citizenship status.”

Cronkite News reporter Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Kendal Blust/Arizona Sonora News

The U.S.-Mexico border fence through the Altar Valley near the Baboquivari Mountains.