Immigration

Cops Enforcing Immigration Laws Bust County Budgets

Police departments charged with enforcing federal immigration laws are going broke.
When local cops enforce federal immigration laws, the police department may not only incur significant costs, but may also fail to attend to more serious crimes and delay response times to most emergency calls, according to a report released by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC).

Take the case of Maricopa County, Ariz. Since Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio transformed his department into an immigration-enforcement agency, following a partnership made by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on January 19, 2007, his office has incurred a $1.3 million deficit in just three months.

Maricopa's police officers began working 4,500 extra hours every two-week pay period during the first month of the partnership, as compared to 2,900 extra hours the previous month, the report said. In April 2007, police officers worked more than 9,000 overtime hours and cost the county's taxpayers $373,757.

Maricopa County is not an isolated case. More and more cities across the country that allow the police to carry out federal immigration laws get themselves in a similar economic quagmire. Many of them find that it is much more expensive than they thought.

Recently, the initiative against illegal immigration in Prince William County, Va., raised its costs to $6.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1, because of overcrowding at the county jail.

Immigrant rights advocates also say that even cities like Valley Park, Mo. and Hazleton, Pa. -- where local enforcement takes a more aggressive approach than simply relying on ICE to perform federal immigration operations -- may fall into deep budget pits soon. "This kind of local enforcement just leaves counties broke, aside from many other negative consequences," said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst for IPC. "It makes the community frightened and forces many businesses to close down."

While police officers arrest undocumented immigrants, Waslin says that they fail to catch the human smuggling rings. "I don't think that cops who become immigration agents are effective to help in stopping the flow of illegal immigration," she said.

The two-page IPC report, based mainly on the findings of a series of investigative stories published in Phoenix-based East Valley Tribune, also revealed that since Maricopa County cops started looking for undocumented immigrants, the county's arrest rate for serious crimes -- including robberies, aggravated assaults and sex crimes -- decreased dramatically -- and these crimes received little or no investigation. Arpaio's office in 2005 cleared 10.5 percent of its investigations with arrests. When immigration operations began, according to the report, that number dropped to 6 percent.

In July 2007, the county's police only made arrests on 2.5 percent of their investigations. Because more officers need to be added to the immigration team, the report said that Arpaio pulled deputies off patrol beats and used them to staff the human smuggling unit, resulting in more delays when responding to 911 and other emergency calls. Patrol districts, trails and lake divisions as well as the central investigations bureau all lost deputies. Allegations of racial profiling have also stung the county, as Arpaio's team increasingly conducts large-scale operations without any evidence of criminal activity in Latino neighborhoods or sites where day laborers convene.

"Some of these will ultimately lead to costly lawsuits," Waslin added. "In any way, the idea of cops doing federal immigration enforcement is very problematic. It's not just going to work.
Anthony D. Advincula is a New York based editor at NAM.
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