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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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3/3/2007 4:00:00 AM
City explores immigration training for local officers
By CINDY BARKS The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT ­ In the normal course of their jobs, Prescott Police officers run into situations virtually every day in which the citizenship of a suspect is in question, says Police Chief Randy Oaks.

But currently, the officers have little or no legal recourse when they suspect they are dealing with an illegal alien. This past summer, Oaks reported that the city had no jurisdiction to enforce immigration laws, and was getting no help from the federal government, even when local officials asked for it.

That could be changing soon, however, as Oaks pursues an arrangement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department to allow local officers to check immigration status.

Oaks said local officials met in Prescott Thursday with Alfredo Peña, special agent in charge of the Phoenix ICE office, to discuss an arrangement on immigration similar to one that is currently under consideration by several law enforcement agencies in the state.

According to a Wednesday Associated Press article, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Phoenix, Prescott and Lake Havasu police departments are all examining training programs to allow for local immigration enforcement.

The prospect of other area governments inking a deal with the federal government was one of the motivating factors for Oaks, who feared that the Prescott area could end up getting even more of the immigration problems.

"I don't want to be in a situation of becoming a 'welcome wagon'" for undocumented aliens fleeing the Phoenix area, Oaks said Friday. "We want to have the same capabilities as the Valley agencies."

Oaks said the city's legal department has requested a copy of the agreement under consideration by other Arizona governments. The next step in the process will be an evaluation of the agreement to see if it would meet Prescott's needs.

If the agreement becomes reality, Oaks said, the city likely would arrange to send two or three of its officers to a five-week ICE training program.

That instruction would allow city patrol officers who encounter suspected undocumented aliens to call the trained officers, who could then question the suspects to determine whether they are U.S. citizens.

"The officers would be sanctioned to ask the questions," Oaks said.

Depending on the outcome of the questioning, the suspects could end up in immigration detention in the county jail, Oaks said, and an ICE supervisor from Phoenix then would verify the status.

City Manager Steve Norwood voiced concerns Friday that, even with the higher level of local enforcement authority, the city could still find itself in a situation where the federal government declines to take action.

"I don't have any intention of doing it if they're not going to follow through," Norwood said, referring to the federal agency. "I don't want to go through this just for show."

Both Norwood and Oaks noted that the five weeks of training would have an impact on the local police force. "Two or three officers is a big commitmentŠ," Oaks said. "It's tough to take three officers off the street."

Even so, he noted that the department has a "minimum staffing level," and would make up the shortage during the training through overtime.

Norwood said the training would be worth it for the city, if it would handle some of the problems with immigration.

"The problem is the number-one issue here," Norwood said. "It's a huge impact on law enforcement."

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009
Article comment by: D-H

The immigration problem will only get worse if it is not addressed. Hats off to all the officials who want to get the illegals out of our area. We barely have enough money to give services to the legal population. Keep the illegals out.

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007
Article comment by: Marti Coleman Adams

There is substantial confusion over the existing laws and authority to enforce those laws. If ICE cannot handle the numbers, the logical thing to do is authorize and train additional agencies to assist. Our little town is overrun with illegals. Reliable sources in the Hispanic Clergy say 90% of them are illegal. Please help us in S.C.

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