Austin
1:24 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Austin Police Chief Slams Arizona-Style Immigration Law

Austinites might have to wait longer for police to respond in an emergency if the Texas Legislature adopts a law similar to Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration measure, Austin Police Department chief Art Acevedo said today.

"I'd rather spend my time responding to public safety threats than going after the day laborer at the Home Depot," Acevedo said in a media conference call hosted by the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative.

Acevedo said diverting resources to chasing undocumented immigrants could result in higher officer response times for crimes in progress, which right now is about seven minutes.

"When you're hiding in your closet, and you dial 911, and it still takes about seven minutes to get there, that's a lifetime," Acevedo said. "I don't need to turn that into 10 minutes or 12 minutes because we have legislators that want us to become ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents."

Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 was signed into law one year ago this Saturday. The New York Times reported that it is among the strictest immigration measures in generations.

It requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment.

It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

At least two bills before the Texas legislature would create similar laws in this state. But neither has been advancing rapidly through the legislative process.

House Bill 311, authored by State Rep. Charlie Geren (R-River Oaks), requires police officers to ask anyone they arrest about their immigration status. If the person violated immigration laws, the officer would have to report the person to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The last action on that bill was mid-February, when it was referred to the House State Affairs Committee.

House Bill 17, authored by State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), would make it a state crime for foreign citizens to be in the US without proper documentation, and would grant broad powers to state and local police officers to arrest people they suspect of violating the statute. You can read our interview with Debbie Riddle about her bill here. HB 17 has been left pending in committee.

Similar laws are advancing in other states, according to Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative project director Arturo Venegas, a retired police chief from Sacramento, California.

"In Georgia, an Arizona-style bill has passed the legislature and is awaiting the signature of the Governor," Venegas said in the conference call. "Florida, Alabama, and Indiana are currently considering copycat bills, but there's a lot of pushback in those states, and the final outcome is not known."