Arizona sheriff on enforcing new immigration guidelines: “We have our plate full"

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The White House has spelled out its new guidelines for attacking illegal immigration, but it’s still unclear how authorities will target and deport people who are living in the U.S. illegally. CBS News correspondent Carter Evans went directly to the front lines of the nation’s border wars to see how local law enforcement in Arizona is handling the issue.

The sheriff in Pima County is welcoming the president’s plan to immediately hire 5,000 more border patrol agents. But the White House is also asking for immigration enforcement on a local level. In Pima County, they say they’ve already got their hands full.

A man appeared – seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the Arizona desert – and water was the first thing he pleaded for when he spotted deputy Karl Woolridge, second in command at the Pima County sheriff’s department. 

The 24-year-old named Jesus told us he left his wife and young child in Mexico before crossing the border on Monday to look for work in the U.S. He admitted it was at least the second time he’s entered the country illegally. He walked roughly 60 miles from the border, through the barren desert, before flagging down deputy Woolridge. He said he’d had no water for four days.
 
“Is this unusual?” Carter asked Woolridge.

“Not at all,” he responded.

Even though Jesus is suspected of breaking federal law, it’s not something that Woolridge can enforce.

Mark Napier is Pima County’s newly-elected Republican sheriff.

“That’s not a problem for a local sheriff. My responsibility is public safety in this county,” Napier said.

The Department of Homeland Security is now asking local law enforcement to go a step further by voluntarily acting as an “’immigration officer’ for purposes of enforcing federal immigration law.”
 
“We have our plate full. Our jail is nearly full, and I don’t have excess deputies,” Napier said.

Napier’s 500 sworn officers protect roughly a million residents across 9,000 square miles along the southern border. But even if he had more resources, he still said it’s the federal government’s job.

“If your deputies are viewed as immigration enforcers, how does that impact their ability to do their job?” Carter asked. 

“First of all, we wouldn’t get a lot of the calls we get where people witness crimes or are victims of crime…out of fear that would lead to deportation,” Napier said.

So unless there’s a federal mandate ordering them to take undocumented immigrants into custody, the Pima County sheriff’s department will continue to turn them over to border patrol. The border patrol agent told CBS News that while Jesus is in custody, they’ll confirm his story and check to see if he has any outstanding arrest warrants here in the U.S. If not, he will likely be sent back to Mexico.