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Sahaurita chief says immigration resources stretched to the max

SAHUARITA - Sahuarita Police Chief John Harris says his department will enforce Arizona's immigration law but says it will put more pressure on resources that already are stretched to the maximum.

The law requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question people's immigration status if officers suspect they're in the country illegally. It goes into effect July 29.

Harris, who was among police chiefs who took their concerns to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, D.C., last week, said law enforcement officials believe they'll be sued on both sides of the immigration issue.

"We've got the far left crying racial profiling and discrimination and the far right (potentially) suing us ... saying we're not doing enough," he said. "This will cost cities and towns lots of money" defending against lawsuits.

One problem is apparently conflicting provisions on determining somebody's legal status, said Harris, president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.

One section says police can accept a valid driver's license, tribal identification or other government-issued identification as proof of legal status. But another says that before police release someone they've arrested, they "shall" have the person's immigration status verified under federal law.

That section, "the part that causes us grief," appears to be more legally binding than the other clause and means verification must be done by a federal agent or a local officer trained under a federal program, he said. Sahuarita has no officers trained under that program and the Pima County Sheriff's Department has few, he said.

Harris said it means every person arrested for domestic violence, marijuana, drunken driving, disorderly conduct and other offenses will have to have immigration status verified by a federal or federally trained officer.

"If we cannot get you verified, say ICE is busy, you will go to Pima County Jail and (the town) has to pay for the jail costs. It takes two to three hours for travel and booking time, so a 15-minute traffic stop could turn into three hours for the officer," Harris said.

The chiefs' main message to Holder was "secure the border" because the federal government's failure to do so has meant large numbers of people and a vast amount of drugs crossing into the U.S., he said.

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