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10:36 PM Thu, Dec. 13th

Sheriff: Not much new in immigration law

Sheahan hopes measure will stop 'revolving door' of repeated deportations

Tom Sheahan

Tom Sheahan

KINGMAN - Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said he supports the illegal immigration law generating discussion and controversy across the country.

The law, which is set to go into effect by August barring an injunction, requires authorities to determine a person's immigration status if there is a "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally.

Critics say the law would lead to racial profiling, although a provision of the law says law enforcement agencies cannot stop or question someone solely on the basis of race, color or national origin.

This means that an individual must be stopped for a primary offense before authorities can ask for a person's immigration status.

That's pretty much how deputies already operate, Sheahan said. A person must be stopped for something such as a criminal or traffic offense first and deputies must then have a reasonable suspicion, such as if the person cannot provide a valid driver's license, before they determine the individual's immigration status.

The Sheriff's Office has also had a policy in effect since 2001 that prohibits deputies from using race or any other such characteristic alone in deciding whether to stop, question, search or arrest a person.

Sheahan said the new law will essentially provide law enforcement with another tool in the fight against illegal immigration in the state. He said the federal government's failure to secure the border has resulted in a "revolving door" that is exploited by illegal immigrants.

"We'll arrest someone, turn them over to Border Patrol, and six months later they're back," he said.

The number of illegal immigrants arrested in Mohave County has decreased in the last year because of the lack of available jobs, Sheahan said. In 2008, around 300 illegal immigrants were arrested. In 2009, the number was about half that, he said.

He said the majority are arrested after traffic violations or when they have committed a criminal act.

Sheahan said the state is picking up the federal government's slack.

"A statement had to be made," Sheahan said. "It's gotten everyone's attention, that's for sure."

Sheahan has been named to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to come up with guidelines for agencies to help train the officers about the law.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has said he will not enforce the law, while Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he supports it.

Kingman Police Chief Robert DeVries was unavailable for comment on the issue.

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police said it opposes a provision of the law, which allows a legal resident to sue government officials, or agencies that they feel are not enforcing the law.

The law also prohibits Arizona employers from hiring a day laborer or the laborer to solicit work for the day if doing so stops or slows traffic; makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for an illegal immigrant to apply for, solicit work or work in the state; and requires employers to keep a record of an employee's legal status on file for the duration of the person's employment or three years, whichever is longer.

The law also makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone to knowingly hide, harbor, transport or entice an illegal immigrant to come to Arizona.