The passage of SB 1070 in Arizona was the latest step in a decade-long effort by anti-immigrant groups nationwide to push local law enforcement into immigration enforcement, a leading expert on policing and racial profiling said Thursday.
The widespread opposition to the law by Arizona police leaders, including Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, was not surprising to University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris. Police chiefs around the country have consistently rebuffed such efforts because they say enforcing immigration law would destroy the trust with immigrant communities. The highly popular model of community policing is built on trust, he said.
"The worst thing you could do is replace trust with fear," said Harris, who has studied police behavior and regulation and national security. "You replace trust with fear, people stop communicating. People begin not to talk, not to pass along information. That's the death of this kind of good, successful police work."
It's rare when law enforcement leaders agree to enforce immigration laws, said Harris, and when it occurs it's often sheriffs who are elected officials. In Arizona, three of the highest-profile proponents of SB 1070 were sheriffs - Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Harris spoke during a symposium Thursday at the University of Arizona about SB 1070 hosted by the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law. Other speakers included UA law professor Gabriel "Jack" Chin, who described the law as a "terribly drafted" one that is vague, sloppy and imprecise.
The law went into effect July 29, 2010, but without several key provisions that were temporarily blocked by a federal judge, including requirements for law-enforcement officers to check the immigration status of those they have stopped and not release them until their immigration status is verified.
The case is awaiting a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The effort to get local police more active in immigration enforcement began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Harris said. Organizations opposed to illegal immigration made the growing population of illegal immigrants a national-security concern.
The leaders of that movement, including the man credited with drafting Arizona's law, Kris Kobach, got what they wanted with Arizona's law, Harris said. But the result could be the opposite of what they are aiming for, he said, because of the erosion of trust between police and immigrant communities.
"Instead of being safer from any national-security threat, we will be less safe than we would be if we followed the way policing has succeeded in this country," he said.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org