Immigration enforcement not police’s job

With the 82nd Texas Legislature just a couple of weeks away, pre-filed anti-immigration bills already are piling up. Let’s hope that reason wins out and bad legislation is shuttled to the dustbin where it belongs.

One such bill, filed last month by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would require law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest.

The last thing our law enforcers need is more paperwork that keeps them from patrolling and responding to calls the way they should.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino notes correctly that the extra duty would occupy the officers with tasks that often will be done anyway, by administrative personnel.

“It encumbers state and local officers to do a job that’s going to be done anyway,” Trevino told a reporter last week. “We have enough calls to answer without being detained by further questioning.”

A growing number of law enforcement agencies have been linked to state and federal computers that will scan fingerprints to determine immigration status and criminal records.

To be sure, not everyone an officer or trooper stops will be brought in for booking or questioning. Most contacts involve simple traffic violations or minor infractions that merit nothing more than a warning or citation. Asking officers to verify immigration status on every contact seems extreme.

What happens if a person’s immigration status can’t be determined or he is found to be in this country without the proper visa? Should the officer take the person in to headquarters, leaving his beat unpatrolled, for such an infraction? Even if federal immigration officials are called to pick the person up, the local officer must stay with the detainee until that person arrives. A simple traffic stop could turn into a lengthy wait, while life — and crime — continues on the beat of the officer who can’t patrol or respond because he’s occupied with immigration matters.

It’s worth noting that everywhere but Arizona, U.S. citizens still aren’t required to carry proof of citizenship everywhere they go. Some stops and detentions certainly will involve citizens or legal residents who simply don’t have documentation on them — because they don’t have to. Given the choice most people won’t carry such documents, because they are too valuable to risk losing on a trivial daily errand.

Are we willing to sacrifice the safety of having patrols on our streets in order to catch a few more undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom have proven to be no threat to public safety?

And of course, the fact remains that local law enforcement agencies have long opposed measures that encumber them with federal immigration enforcement. They fear that such mandates harm their efforts to gain community trust and undermine their role as protectors of the peace. Crimes will go unreported and criminals will remain free if people fear that they might be deported just because they tried to be good neighbors and reported crimes or suspicious activity.

Texas has remained one state where reason has won out, even as Arizona and other states have placed political statements ahead of public safety. We hope that when the legislature convenes in January, it will continue to do the rational thing.