The Observer looks at a trio of bills by Rep. Debbie Riddle in which she tries to solve the immigration issue all by herself.
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, is launching a three-pronged attack on non-citizens this session. Prong 1: Hook 'em at work with HB 48, which would suspend employers' licenses for "knowingly" employing undocumented workers. Prong 2: Nail 'em at school with HB 50, which would disqualify undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition.
And then there's Prong 3, which would, it seems, get 'em everywhere else. HB 49 would create a Class B misdemeanor (Criminal Trespass by Illegal Aliens) that would effectively authorize local law enforcement to enforce two sections of the federal code governing most immigration law.
Asked if there were a precedent for such a law in other states, Riddle said, "If not, I'm willing to be on the cutting edge and do what's bold here in Texas."
Under HB 49, peace officers, acting on "reasonable suspicion," could detain people for being undocumented - even if they have not committed another crime. If ICE confirms the detained person is in the U.S. illegally, the peace officer could then make an arrest.
Constitutionality aside, leaving immigration to the feds has worked out for federal agents and local law enforcers alike, says El Paso Police Chief Gregory Allen. "It's been pretty clear cut," Allen says. "I don't think it should be spread out. ICE doesn't help us out with our robbery problems or our burglary problems. They're not cruising our neighborhoods. We shouldn't be required to help them."
Riddle's response? "I don't think that we should have this hair-splitting of, oh, well, this isn't my job," she says. "Citizens don't really care that much about who is making sure that their security is established in place."
However, according to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, burdening local law enforcement with enforcing federal immigration law could negatively impact a police department's capacity to fight crime, since city police departments already have their hands - and jails - full enforcing current criminal statutes. What's more, allowing local law officers to arrest illegal immigrants might discourage victims of questionable status from coming forward and reporting crimes, particularly in cases of family violence.
"You'd lose a lot of witnesses. There'd be a lot of crime that would go unreported," says Acevedo. "I'll give you an example. We went to a call with domestic violence. Here, a young woman was beaten by a legal resident and his threat to her was, if you call the police, you're going to get deported."
In Guadalupe, grocery store employees waited in vain for help during an armed robbery.
In Queen Creek, vandalism spread through a neighborhood where Maricopa County sheriff's deputies rarely patrolled.
In Aguila, people bought guns in the face of rising crime that deputies couldn't respond to quickly enough.
And in El Mirage, dozens of serious felony cases went uninvestigated.
Response times, arrest rates, investigations and other routine police work throughout Maricopa County have suffered over the past two years as Sheriff Joe Arpaio turned his already short-handed and cash-strapped department into an immigration enforcement agency, a Tribune investigation found.