Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Immigration as Political Football

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2006 at 8:37 AM

One of today's big Arizona news items is Gov. Janet Napolitano's veto of HB 2577, which would have, among other things, made it so illegal immigrants were considered trespassers, and therefore would have to be arrested.

While something has to be done about the mess—created by a mixture of bad policy (hello, Congress and the Border Patrol), bad economies (Mexico and Central America), bad people (corrupt politicos, owners of exploitive businesses) and good people wanting better lives for themselves—this bill by the Republicans would have only made matters worse.

In our May 25 cover story, a look at how illegal immigration is zapping Pima County in the pocketbook, Saxon Burns and Jim Nintzel got some information that's worth repeating:

(County Administrator Chuck) Huckelberry prepared his analysis of the costs of illegal immigration to help shape the county's legislative agenda. While the state has helped with some financial burdens--such as the purchase of the refrigerated truck at the morgue--that's been mostly thanks to Gov. Janet Napolitano, who provided $1.5 million to Southern Arizona counties as part of her declaration of emergency along the border last year.

State lawmakers haven't offered much help this year. With some of their proposals--such as the push to make being in the country illegally a crime--legislators are actually doing the opposite, says Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik: They're creating more of a burden for local government.

"We don't need trespassing legislation," says Dupnik, who adds that his deputies can already detain illegal immigrants. The problem: Border Patrol officers don't have much of an interest in taking them into custody.

But if lawmakers made it a state crime to be in the country illegally, then Pima County deputies would have to take them into custody.

"We would have to house them," Dupnik says. "It would throw the jail into crisis overnight."

Huckelberry dismisses the legislative approach as: "Let's pass a bill and make it a crime, and we'll assume the world is Pollyannaish, and it's going to solve the problem. All it does is transfer the cost to the local taxpayers. Our law enforcement should be dealing with major crime, not border trespassing."

Props to Napolitano for vetoing this bill. And shame on the GOP legislators who ignored law-enforcement input and pushed this legislation through when they know damn well the bill could have caused more problems than it solved—and for using the immigration issue as a political football.

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