Scottsdale police logging immigration status
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 23, 2007 12:00 AM
With pressure mounting across the nation to crack down on illegal immigration, the Scottsdale Police Department is seeking the citizenship of every arrested suspect and holding undocumented immigrants for federal immigration officials.
Sgt. Mark Clark, a Scottsdale police spokesman, said officers are not acting as immigration officials.
But under a new policy, officers are documenting calls they make to federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents about suspects and logging details about their immigration status.
"If we arrest someone and then find that we called ICE and they put a hold on them, then we know they have been deported and are back again," Clark said.
Scottsdale police didn't have that crucial information in May 2006 when they unknowingly released a 22-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant on a minor charge.
Sixteen months later, in September, Erik Jovani Martinez, shot and killed Phoenix Officer Nick Erfle. Police later killed Martinez after he stole a car and took a hostage.
Scottsdale's unknowing release in May 2006 of an illegal immigrant turned cop killer led to far-reaching policy changes.
"That caused us to look at what were asking suspects," Clark said.
Since Oct. 15, Scottsdale police are asking every arrested suspect about their citizenship and are logging calls to federal immigration officials to create a data base of possible illegal immigrants who may turn up again in Scottsdale.
In May 2006, Scottsdale police picked up Martinez for reportedly assaulting his girlfriend. But they released him on the misdemeanor charge, not knowing that he had twice been deported.
No record of status check
After the September officer killing, Scottsdale officers realized they had no record of whom they spoke to at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix, where they previously had inquired about Martinez's immigration status.
Councilman Jim Lane, who contacted police after Martinez killed Erfle, said he believed there was "a strong feeling among police to avoid the (immigration) issue."
But now, Lane said, "I think we have facilitated some change in response to an issue, as tragic as it was."
Mayor Mary Manross also supports the change, saying that because every suspect is questioned about citizenship, there is no whiff of racial profiling.
"I would not tolerate that," Manross said. "I think the chief has struck the right balance to do what we want to achieve."
Clark said at the time officers released Martinez in May 2006, they had no reason to suspect Martinez was an illegal immigrant, even though he wrote on his arrest sheet that he came from Mexico.
Past checks not routine
Martinez had been in the U.S. since he was 18 months old and spoke unaccented English. Clark said Scottsdale officers didn't routinely call ICE because the federal agents were shorthanded and could not respond.
Eduardo Preciado, an assistant ICE field officer in Phoenix, acknowledged that the agency was short-staffed until about a year ago when it added agents to man phones and to assist local-law enforcement agencies.
"Now we respond to every call," he said.
Clark said ICE agents come as often as Scottsdale police need them to pick up suspected illegal immigrants held temporarily in the Scottsdale jail.
3 are linked to break-ins
Last week, ICE agents picked up three suspects. They were arrested Monday, by Scottsdale police, who linked them to break-ins in Phoenix and developed information that they may be in the U.S. illegally.
"They come whenever we call them," Clark said of ICE agents.
That pleased Scottsdale Councilman Bob Littlefield, who urged beefed-up immigration enforcement by police during a speech at a recent Republican Party forum.
When he later learned that Scottsdale is holding suspected illegal immigrants for federal authorities, Littlefield said, "I can support that."