Lawmaker proposes local anti-immigration authority

Phoenix – The proposal by Sen. Barbara Leff would say that if you crossed the border in violation of federal law, then you're guilty of the state law crime of trespassing. Leff said that's designed to get around any legal
restrictions which keep police from enforcing federal laws. The legislation specifically would make it a crime for those not here legally to be -- quote -- on any public or private land in this state. But Leff said she doesn't envision police officers and sheriff's deputies using the new law to conduct sweeps.

(My goal in this legislation is not to go into people's homes, not to go into people's schools and not to go into people's businesses. My goal is to focus on stopping people as they cross that border, before they get to the highway.)

Leff is doing more than changing the state criminal code. One companion measure would give $75 million to border counties for more police, prosecutors, public defenders and judges specifically to enforce this new
law. And a second sets aside $70 million to build and staff two new state prisons to house people picked up on this new crime. Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said the failure of federal officials to control the border makes this kind of approach welcome.

(In the process or consequence of performing our duties and our jobs, we come across people at the state and local level who are here illegally that the Border Patrol either can't or won't deal with, ICE cannot or will not deal with. And out of sheer frustration and desperation and an understanding that something needs to be done, this discussion and possibility has evolved.)

State Rep. Ben Miranda, who also is an attorney, is questioning the legality of the plan. He said courts have said people cannot be charged with what he called status crimes -- offenses due solely to someone's situation. Leff disagreed.

(We have been told by all the attorneys that it's legal. And until it gets challenged in court then we say it's legal. We passed it by every attorney in the state. And they have said it's legal to do that. It's state-izing a federal law and making it a state crime.)

The legislation says that on a first offense the police have to at least fingerprint the person. But it would also give officers the option, on a first offense, to simply deport the person or turn him or her over to a federal agency. Otherwise, that first offense is punishable by up to a year in prison. And subsequent violations could bring a 2 1/2-year prison term. But there would be five-year terms if the person had drugs, weapons, items of terrorism or chemicals that can be used to manufacture methamphetamines. Prior efforts to have local agencies enforce federal immigration laws have met with lukewarm response from police chiefs who said they don't want immigrants to fear reporting crimes to the police. Leff brushed aside those concerns.

(The problem is you can't just keep doing a wink and a nod. Either it's illegal to be in this country illegally or it's not. And as long as it is illegal by federal law, and now by state law, then that's an issue we have to deal with. You can't pretend it's not illegal. And that's been the problem.)

No date has been set for hearing any of the bills. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.