PHOENIX/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The police chief of Arizona’s largest city said on Friday the state’s controversial new crackdown on illegal immigrants would likely create more problems than it solved for local law enforcement.
The remarks by Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris came as U.S. Senate Democrats vowed to push ahead with their uphill bid to pass legislation this year overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, saying the furor in Arizona has given them a lift despite a lack of support from Republicans.
Arizona’s week-old law calls for state and local police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. It has outraged Latinos, civil rights activists and organized labor.
With polls showing the crackdown has broad public support in Arizona and nationwide, Harris said at a news conference he understood Americans’ frustration over illegal immigration.
But he criticized the new law as unlikely to solve problems caused by any of the estimated 10.8 million people who are in the United States illegally.
“I don’t really believe that this law is going to do what the vast majority of Americans and Arizonans want, and that is to fix the immigration problem,” he said. “This law ... adds new problems for local law enforcement.”
Harris said asking officers to determine immigration status during an investigation would interfere with their primary job and “instead tells us to become immigration officers and enforce routine immigration laws that I don’t believe we have the authority to enforce.”
The chief said his force already had 10 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in its violent crime unit and that the law provided no additional enforcement tools.
“We have the tools that we need to enforce the laws in this state, to reduce property crime and reduce violent crime, to go after criminals that are responsible for human smuggling,” and other border-related crimes,” Harris said.
An estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants live in Arizona, which straddles the main corridor for Mexicans crossing illegally into the United States and has seen an upswing in crimes linked to the Mexican narcotics trade. Phoenix, the state capital, has recently averaged one drug-related kidnapping nearly ever day.
In Washington, Democrats have been accused of playing election-year politics by proposing a comprehensive immigration overhaul that critics insist has little chance of success.
The Senate draft proposal, quickly endorsed by President Barack Obama, includes calls for bolstered border security, new sanctions on U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants and high-tech identification cards that all U.S. workers would be required to carry.
But Senate Democrats appear to lack support from their Republican colleagues, however, and time is running out for legislative action before the November congressional election.
Republican Orrin Hatch, a member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said Americans did not trust Washington to solve the illegal immigration problem.
“Law-abiding immigrants, ranchers, farmers and families have no confidence that Washington can stop the drug traffickers, gangs, and even those low-enough to traffic human beings from illegally coming into the United States,” Hatch said late Thursday.
“Instead of fixing our broken borders, Washington politicos are playing a cynical game of introducing so-called immigration reform that I fear will turn into nothing more than amnesty,” Hatch said. (Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Steve Gorman and Doina Chiacu)