Officials say immigration bill would not change police operations

The recent upholding of portions of Arizona's controversial immigration law would not affect area law enforcement's operations if a similar law were passed in New Mexico, according to law enforcement officials.

In a 5-3 opinion released Monday, the high court eliminated three portions of the law. Portions struck down by the Supreme Court included:

  • Making it a state crime for an immigrant to not carry papers.
  • Allow for warrantless arrest in some situations.
  • Make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work in Arizona.

The portion kept, Section 2B, requires an officer to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there's reasonable suspicion that person is in the country illegally.

Lt. Lance Bateman said procedure would remain the same for the New Mexico State Police.

Bateman said state police officers do not make traffic stops based upon license plates or the nationality of the drivers or passengers. He said those stopped by the state police must have violated or given probable cause to a violation of a traffic or criminal law.

"We do not make stops simply to inquire about someone's immigration status," Bateman said.

Bateman said if a person or persons whom are stopped are determined to be of a different nationality or are in the country illegally and are charged with a crime then they are given due process. He said they (state police) are required to give those person(s) access to their consulate.

"If they are charged with a crime they are normally given a standard bond," Bateman said. "Though a separate hold could be placed on them by a Federal immigration agency."

Bateman said a federal agency like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, could place a hold on the person to determine if they are going to deport them.

There is a concern, a law like Arizona's would damage or impede the credibility of an officer, said Tucumcari Chief of Police Jason Braziel.

Braziel said their department has a policy in place which prevents racial profiling, though Arizona's law appears to support if not encourage that action.

"A law like that could open a door to question the officer's motives or justification of a traffic stop or arrest," Braziel said.

Braziel said making arrest or traffic stops based on profiling is not what the city's police department is about. He said officers have been trained to enforce and uphold the laws of the city and state.

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, released a statement concerning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision:

"While the Supreme Court decision struck down a number of the provisions of SB 1070 and reaffirmed that immigration requires a solution at the federal level, I do have concerns with the part of the law that was left in place," Lujan said. "This decision serves as yet another reminder of the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level that fixes our broken system."

State Rep. Dennis Roch, who represents Quay County in his district district, said the ruling shows a clear message by the court that immigration was the duty of the federal government.

"America has to have an honest and frank discussion on immigration policy," Roch said, while noting that New Mexico taxpayers expect a bare minimum of local, state and federal agencies cooperating on the issue.

Peter Simonson, director of the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union, said $9 million has already been raised nationally in preparation of litigation regarding the Arizona bill — which has been the subject of challenges since its passage in 2010.

"Right now, we don't know when or even if Section 2B will be implemented in Arizona, but let's assume it is," Simonson said. "The first implication is New Mexico is a very diverse state. We neighbor Arizona and it's very reasonable to assume New Mexicans who are people of color are going to be traveling through Arizona."

That, Simonson said, would lead to detentions of questionable legality on the foundation of racial profiling.

"In most instances," Simonson said, "the only cues officers are going to encounter that might give rise to that suspicion (of illegal immigration) are race-related. That experience has been borne out."

Roch said the bill did have an immediate impact on New Mexico, as the state saw an influx of Mexican-Americans after Arizona passed the bill. The people may or may not have been illegal immigrants, Roch said, but the "fear factor" drove them elsewhere all the same.

Roch doubts similar legislation would come to New Mexico, noting that he doesn't feel the state has an "appetite" for such legislation.

— CMI staff writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this report

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