By Maria Peña
WASHINGTON – Ten police chiefs from around the United States used a meeting on Wednesday with Attorney General Eric Holder to complain about a new Arizona law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants.
In their hour-long session with Holder, the chiefs expressed their uneasiness over the impact of Arizona law SB1070 if it enters into force July 29.
SB1070, which mandates that law enforcement personnel verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be undocumented, has sparked criticism that it invites racial profiling.
The message delivered by the police chiefs is that only the federal government can enforce the immigration laws and that SB1070, enacted April 23, diverts resources otherwise needed for fighting more serious crime and damages the trust that police have cultivated among their communities.
Holder listened to the chiefs’ concerns, but – they told reporters – he did not say when he will announce whether or not the government will challenge the law in the courts.
The police chief of Tucson, Arizona, Roberto Villaseñor, said SB1070 will create a “fracture” between his force and a segment of the community.
“We understand the frustration (over illegal immigration), but our concern is the public safety of those who live in our communities,” he said after accusing supporters of SB1070 of fabricating an increase in crime to justify the new law.
A preliminary FBI report in 2009, which compiled data from 13,237 local police stations, indicates crime is down in the United States.
Thus, for the third consecutive year, the violent crime rate dropped in the United States and crimes against property also fell for the seventh consecutive year.
Between January and December 2009, there was a decline of 5.5 percent in violent crimes and a drop of 4.9 percent in crimes against property.
“Laws like this are put forward as a public safety issue, but they are not a public safety solution,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said after the talks with Holder. “These laws will actually increase crime, not decrease crime. Witnesses won’t come forward.”
John Harris, the police chief in Sahuarita, Arizona, said that illegal immigration is “a very serious problem,” SB1070 “puts Arizona law enforcement right in the middle.”
“You have one side saying that we’re going to do racial profiling. You have another side saying we’re not doing enough ... It makes it very difficult for us to police our communities,” said Harris, who is president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.
In remarks to Efe, Frank Sharry, of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, criticized the slowness of the Justice Department to act on the matter and the decision by President Barack Obama to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico.
“The administration knows that the solution is comprehensive immigration reform. Sending the National Guard is a political maneuver that does not promote a solution ... The Republicans are getting what they want, more police measures, when the administration and the majority of Congress know that that, without reform, will not solve the problem,” Sharry complained.
Meanwhile, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told Efe on Wednesday that he is “optimistic” that Holder “will file the suit (against SB1070) in the coming weeks.”
“The matter of immigration has become politicized, but I’ll keep exerting pressure to get the White House to file that suit. They have to do it because people are suffering and the economic impact is serious: more conventions have been cancelled and more cities are joining the boycott” against Arizona, Gordon said.
“It’s a huge issue and I think that the delay is due to the fact that the authorities want to deliberate with great care to ensure that they do the correct thing; making a mistake would only aggravate things,” Gordon said.
If Holder decides to bring the lawsuit, it will be the first time in several decades that the federal government has sued a state government.
Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, is named in three of the five lawsuits filed against the state by assorted civic groups alleging that SB1070 is unconstitutional. EFE