Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said that while he’s committed to working with federal agencies, the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the resources to enforce immigration laws.
“I fully support the increased emphasis on securing the border and providing additional federal resources to enhance our efforts to combat these public safety challenges,” Napier said in a statement.
With roughly 500 sworn members of the sheriff’s department providing law enforcement services for 9,200 square miles of land, there aren’t enough employees or resources to “engage in active enforcement of federal immigration violations,” Napier said.
In addition, the Pima County jail houses about 1,825 inmates and has the capacity for 2,000, making it unsuitable to detain “significant numbers of people” on federal immigration violations, Napier said.
“If local law enforcement becomes proactive in immigration enforcement, we will not enhance public safety, but rather deteriorate it,” Napier said, adding that it’s vital that community members here illegally feel comfortable coming forward as victims or witnesses.
If those people aren’t free to interact with law enforcement without risking deportation, that creates a segment of the community who will have no options if they become a victim and also won’t aid in reporting crimes, Napier said.
Tucson police Chief Chris Magnus has also said the police department does not have the resources for immigration enforcement duties. He said officers will follow all state and federal laws dealing with immigration, including the state’s SB 1070.
The sheriff’s department already acknowledges ICE detainers and contacts federal law enforcement when “in the regular course of our duties, we develop a reasonable belief a person might be in this country without documentation,” Napier said.
With several thousand Border Patrol employees in Tucson who are able to respond quickly to requests for support, there’s no need for sheriff employees to be cross-certified as immigration agents, Napier said.
State law requires the department verifies the immigration status of Pima County jail inmates prior to their release and a “relatively small portion” of inmates crosschecked with ICE result in a detention request, Napier said.
“An ICE detainer ... does not provide a legal basis for detaining a person,” Napier said. “When we no longer have a legal basis to hold an inmate and are aware of an ICE detainer, we notify ICE that we are beginning out-processing from the inmate.”
In 2016, the sheriff’s department processed 35,000 people through the Pima County jail, of which only 420 had ICE detainers, Napier said.
ICE was contacted in all 420 situations and “no person with an ICE detainer was released into our community,” he said.