Posted 5:01 PM 6/25/2012 : City responds to SB 1070 ruling
TUCSON - Tucson's police chief and mayor are concerned with the ruling of the Supreme Court justices. On Monday, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said, "forcing a federal responsibility--immigration enforcement--onto cities, counties and towns, is the wrong approach.
He added, "I'm concerned because the court left this provision in play even while acknowledging law enforcement could violate people's constitutional rights."
Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said the provision that was upheld, which requires officers to verify a person's immigration status if the suspect is believed to be in the country illegally, takes away an officer's discretion. Chief Villasenor said for years, he and his officers have contacted immigration authorities regarding suspects who they believe immigration status may be in question. Villasenor said on average officers contact immigration authorities about 36,000 times a year, "but if we're just dealing with someone who they suspect they have to follow through on that immigration enforcement and neglect a robbery or rape or aggravated assault call to deal with immigration and I'm sorry that's not our highest priority as a local law enforcement agency."
According to Rothschild, the provision that was upheld creates a potential liability for the city. He said, for example, if an officer is waiting to verify a person's status after calling immigration authorities and the person turns out to be in the U.S. legally that could violate a person's civil liberties. Rothschild also said booking a person into custody is a cost incurred on the local level. "We have no real sense of now what the additional burden is going to be. But that additional burden is going to either take away from other services that we normally provide or require additional local tax dollars that aren't being provided to us so no I can't say it's a victory for any locality," Rothschild said.
Villasenor said his department had been preparing for the ruling by training officers to act within SB 1070, on Monday he said that training would continue. However, nothing would change for officers in the immediate future because no time line was set and because the provision would be sent back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "I disagree with this as a victory for local law enforcement. I think that this is a setback for local law enforcement. This is not what we are geared to do. We are there for the safety of all involved not for federal law enforcement, for federal immigration enforcement, that's not our role," he said.
Rothschild said the city and police department are reviewing the ruling and would receive legal advice in executive session of Tuesday's council meeting.
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