Oct 29, 2012 1:38 PM by Associated Press
PHOENIX - Police agencies in Arizona have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training officers to enforce the state's immigration law, despite claims from supporters that it wasn't going to cost much extra for the state's 15,000 officers to carry out the statute.
An informal survey by the Associated Press of selected police departments and a state agency that trains officers shows that seven agencies have spent a combined $640,000 on training that focused heavily on the law's requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question people's immigration status if they're believed to be in the country illegally. Other agencies were surveyed, but said no training-cost estimates were available.
A federal judge gave police the go-ahead to start enforcing the law's questioning requirement on Sept.18 after a two-year court battle waged by the Obama administration, immigrant-rights advocates and others.
Lost in all the heated political rhetoric surrounding the law was the question about how much it would cost to carry out.
The spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said in the days after the questioning requirement took effect that he didn't know why there would be any additional costs in enforcing the measure.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said that immigration inquiries are just another line of questioning for officers to work into their routines when they stop someone and have good reason to make immigration inquiries.
A week later, when told about training costs, Benson said the amount being spent on the law would still pale in comparison to the estimated $934million in net costs from illegal immigration that the state had to eat in 2011, the last year for which an estimate was available.
That estimate includes the costs of educating illegal immigrants, jailing illegal immigrants arrested on state crimes and providing health care for those in the country illegally.
Beyond the training, there are costs to actually enforce the law.
Those figures are not known, although they aren't as great as opponents had predicted.
Federal authorities who are charged with verifying the immigration status of people on behalf of local police departments said they haven't experienced a significant uptick in calls since officers started to enforce the questioning requirement.
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor had predicted in 2010 that the law's immigration-check requirement for all arrested people before they can be released from custody would result in higher jail costs.
But Villaseñor's interpretation of the law has since changed.
He said the prevailing view by police departments now is that in cases where federal authorities didn't respond to an inquiry or there is no record of a person in an immigration database, they will fall back on their department's policies, which in Tucson is to cite and release them.
Only one study has been conducted on the costs of enforcing the immigration law, but that examination by budget analysts for the Legislature concluded the costs couldn't be predicted and is considered outdated.
Budget staffers at the Legislature haven't produced another study on the subject.
Federal immigration officials who in 2010 had predicted the questioning requirement could dramatically increase their workload and slow down response times on immigration checks say they don't have an estimate on how much the checks are costing Washington.
The $640,000 in training costs consists of an estimated $360,000 at the Phoenix Police Department; $123,000 at the Tucson Police Department; an estimated $23,000 at the Yuma County Sheriff's Office; about $2,000 at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office; an estimated $24,000 by the Flagstaff Police Department; and $28,000 by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. An additional $80,000 was spent by the Chandler Police Department, which also trained its civilian employees.