Police Chiefs Tell Holder: Arizona Law a Bad Move

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CBS/iStockphoto

Nine police chiefs from across the country met with Attorney General Eric Holder today to express their concerns about Arizona's controversial new immigration law, telling the attorney general that such a law could actually increase crime and impede police forces.

The Arizona measure, which was signed into law last month and goes into effect in July, requires immigrants in Arizona to carry documents verifying their immigration status. It also requires police officers to question a person about his or her immigration status during a "lawful stop" if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be in the country illegally.

"Our responsibility is to enforce criminal law, not civil laws," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, CBS News Producer Stephanie Lambidakis reports. "We could enforce IRS regulations, but the question is do you want local law enforcement to take the lead role in federal immigration enforcement. What we're saying is, we feel it's going to divert our resources away from things we're supposed to be doing -- that is fighting crime and providing for the safety of local communities."

As citizens grow impatient with Washington's lack of action on federal immigration reform, lawmakers from a number of other states are considering adopting laws similar to Arizona's. In a CBS News poll released yesterday, 52 percent of Americans said the Arizona law was "about right" in its approach to illegal immigration.

However, opponents of the law, including the Obama administration, say it could lead to racial profiling and inappropriately puts the state in charge of a federal issue. President Obama has directed the Justice Department to review the constitutionality of the measure, but Holder gave no indication today of whether or not he will challenge it, Lambidakis reports.

Some police organizations, such as the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and the Arizona Police Association, support the Arizona law. The police chiefs who met with Holder today, however, agree with President Obama that the law is "misguided."

"Laws like this are put forward as a public safety issue, but they are not a public safety solution," said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. "These laws will actually increase crime, not decrease crime. Witnesses won't come forward. And they break down the trust we've been building for decades. On many levels, these laws don't work."

In an example of how he believes the law could break down trust within a community and impede police work, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said that immigrants could be too afraid to call 911 for a child abuse situation for fear of being interrogated about their immigration status.

"We know for a fact that those people won't [call], and it will start from there," he said.

John Harris, police chief for Sahuarita, Ariz., said the law puts officers in the middle of a divisive issue.

"One side said we're going to be racial profiling, and then people who don't think we're doing enough," he said.

The law enables citizens to sue their local law enforcement agencies if they feel the law is not being enforced.

Meanwhile, some municipalities in Arizona, including Flagstaff and Tuscon, are suing the state over the law. Multiple cities in other states are moving to cut off their economic ties with Arizona in protest.

The president, who has said he wants a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, is planning to send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in the wake of complaints about security there.

Tucson Chief of Police Roberto Villasenor, also in attendance in today's meeting with Holder, said that he hasn't heard the details of the plan, but that any support at the border is helpful.

The Phoenix police chief was also scheduled to attend today's meeting, but he returned to Arizona because one of his officers was killed, Lambidakis reports.

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