El Paso Times: Law officers shun immigration role

Law officers shun immigration role

Posted: 06/13/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO — Enforcing federal immigration laws is not a job for local law enforcement, according to top-ranking officials who spoke Saturday on border policing.

City and county law enforcement officials from the region answered questions for about two hours during a panel discussion at the Plaza Theatre.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles received the loudest applause for his closing remarks at the session, which was organized by the Border Network for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

“I get really disgusted when I hear the national debate on immigration,” Wiles said to about 140 people, many listening to Spanish translations on headphones. “They make these outrageous plans without understanding our community.”

When politicians speak of closing the border and rounding up undocumented immigrants, Wiles said, they generally are trying to get re-elected.

“We have a very diverse community, and we’re proud of that,” he said, and he noted that there are many types of immigration status. “This community is made up of decent law-abiding people who care about each other.”

One woman in the audience yelled to Wiles, “Do you want to work in New Mexico?”

“I think, in part, they’re kind of pandering to a community here,” Sarah VanBuren, a Washington D.C. resident temporarily working in El Paso, said after the meeting. “It would be interesting to see what they said if they went somewhere else.”

Nonetheless, VanBuren said she appreciated

Wiles’ remarks. “So far, I think El Paso is a great city and I feel very comfortable here,” she said.Most of the responses received favorable reactions. However, Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison’s answer to a question about the Arizona law requiring officers to verify immigration status was met with awkward silence.

Asked whether he thought the law was a good idea, Garrison said, “What they put into law is similar to what we do already. If they put it into law (in New Mexico), we’d have to enforce it.”

Pressed for a yes or no, Garrison said, “I’m not looking for it to be put into place here.”

The others said they did not think the law, as they understood it, was a good idea. Also on the panel were former Las Cruces police Chief Peter Bradley, current Las Cruces police Chief Richard Williams and Anthony police Chief Ed Miranda.

Police and sheriff’s deputies must ask for identification, the officials said. But when a person provides a valid driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance after being stopped for a minor offense such as a traffic violation, the officer should write a ticket and move on, they agreed.

If a person cannot provide valid identification, they said, immigration status ultimately could become an issue. In particular, they said, criminals — regardless of their status — will be pursued and arrested. And if a person is suspected of having a warrant against them, asking about their birthplace is one way of making a positive identification, Wiles said.

In the long term, there must be immigration reform, Williams said. Immigration issues complicate the job of making communities safe, he said.

“Can we simplify the (immigration) process so people can be here legally,” he asked, “and we do not have people who are afraid of the police?”

Chris Roberts may be reached at chrisr@elpasotimes.com;546-6136.

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