Richardson leads clash of views on Arizona law

PHOENIX — With all of the Republican gains in state legislatures and governor’s offices across the nation as a result of this month’s elections, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is fearful more states will approve strict new immigration laws as Arizona did earlier this year.

Speaking at a national conference of statehouse reporters from across the nation, Richardson said Saturday that would be a mistake because it would lead to a hodge-podge of illegal immigration laws on a subject best handed by the federal government.

He told about 100 reporters and editors of Capitolbeat at its annual conference that a uniform federal approach to the issue is a better way to deal with the problem, so no one state is forced to deal with its repercussions, such as the loss of tourism and migrant labor Arizona has seen.

“I see this law as a real problem, and my concern is that it’s spreading to other states,” Richardson said. “It’s definitely a federal problem, and we definitely have a broken system, but what we need is a more secure border and more resources to enforce it.”

Richardson, a Democrat, said he and his Arizona counterpart, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, never have seen eye to eye on the issue. Richardson was asked to speak at the conference after Brewer declined to attend.

Proponents of the new law who did attend the conference were state Rep. John Kavanagh, a Phoenix Republican, and Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.

Kavanagh said despite the loss in tourism dollars and the cost of arresting, incarcerating and deporting illegal immigrants, the state expects to save millions in services it won’t have to spend on such things as education and medical care. He estimates there are about 500,000 illegal immigrants in the border state, or about 8 percent of its population.

He said the state is doing what the federal government won’t.

“The law that we’re enforcing is U.S. immigration law, which I think is a fair law,” Kavanagh said. “It’s much better than a sanctuary city approach, where law enforcement was told, ‘When you see laws being broken, look the other way.’ “

Spencer said despite a handful of sheriffs and police chiefs in the state deriding the new law, most rank-in-file officers were tired of being “handcuffed” in dealing with crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

“I have six police officers in Phoenix who are dead because of contact with people who shouldn’t have been here in the first place,” he said. “We didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ “

Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a class-action lawsuit against the law alongside a legal challenge filed by the federal government against the state, said there’s no way to ask that question without using discriminatory tactics.

Pochoda, who debated the merits of the law with Kavanagh and Spencer at the conference, called the new law perverse, stupid and racially motivated.

He said some law enforcement agencies have gone so far as to randomly round up people in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods and go through each person to verify their legal status.

“There’s a clear intent here to reduce the Hispanic population,” he said. “This is a perversion of the police function. There is nothing a brown person can do to not be stopped by police.”

A federal court granted a temporary injunction delaying enforcement of sections of the controversial law.

Colorado put a similar law on its books in 2005, but that statute requires law enforcement to verify the legal status of someone after they’ve been charged with another crime. Arizona’s law, however, requires police to detain and arrest immigrants if they reasonably suspect someone is in the nation illegally, a very low standard, Pochoda said.


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