10/6: EP chief opposes bill to let police go after immigrants
- EP chief opposes bill to let police go after immigrants
AUSTIN -- Turning local law enforcement officers into de facto immigration agents would hamper their ability to prevent crime and strain already tight resources, El Paso police Chief Richard Wiles said.
"There is no way that we would be able to take any time away from an officer's busy day to enforce immigration laws," Wiles said.
Taking a cue from volunteer civilian border patrol groups like the Minutemen, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday filed legislation that would allow local law enforcement to arrest, detain and prosecute undocumented immigrants.
"Our borders have been hemorrhaging for too long," Hutchison said. "It is a national security and safety threat to our nation."
Currently, state and local law enforcement can only act on criminal violations of immigration law, such as stopping illegal border crossings they witness. Federal officials handle civil violations, including apprehension and deportation.
OAS_AD('ArticleFlex_1'); Hutchison's bill would allow state and local officers to enforce both civil and criminal immigration laws.
The bill would also create a Volunteer Border Marshal Program, allowing police officers to be assigned to temporary Border Patrol missions.
Aiming to reduce the strain on local and federal border agents, the bill calls for the homeland security secretary to create the volunteer cadre of trained, state- licensed peace officers for border patrols.
"There is no doubt the Minutemen highlighted the dire need for more agents to patrol our borders," Hutchison said. "... Trained, licensed peace officers could be a valuable and accountable asset to supplement our Border Patrol."
While he agreed "our borders leak like a sieve," Wiles said putting the immigration burden on local law enforcement is not the answer.
Wiles said his department is already short nearly 270 officers, and the ones he has can barely keep up with their existing duties.
Having local officers enforce immigration laws could also create a chilling effect on crime reports and investigations, he said.
"It would definitely cause some problems just across the board," Wiles said.
Although trained police officers working on the border is a better alternative than the civilian groups currently patrolling the Texas-Mexico border, El Paso Municipal Police Association President Chris McGill said, finding enough officers with time to volunteer to make a real difference seems unrealistic.
McGill and T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, agreed that hiring more Border Patrol agents would be a better solution but still wouldn't stop the flow of undocumented immigrants.
"You could hire 100,000 more Border Patrol agents, but as long as we continue to dangle out there that very large carrot of jobs in the U.S., people are going to continue to cross the border," Bonner said.
State Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, said she worried the bill would increase racial profiling by law enforcement statewide and would give police more work without more funds.
"We are still failing to address the fundamental issue here, and that is true immigration reform and enhanced border security," she said.
Brandi Grissom may be reached at bgrissom@ elpasotimes.com; (512)479-6606.