Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik held a press conference to answer questions about the passage of SB 1070. “This law is unwise, this law is stupid, and it’s racist,” Dupnik said on Wednesday.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik called the state’s new sweeping immigration law a “national embarrassment” and said he’ll only enforce it if he’s forced to.

“This law is unwise, this law is stupid, and it’s racist,” Dupnik said on Wednesday. “It’s a national embarrassment. . . If I were a Hispanic person in the state, I would be humiliated and angered. From that point of view, I think it’s morally wrong.”

But while he opposes what he deems an unnecessary law — his deputies already arrest hundreds of illegal immigrants a month — he said he might have to reluctantly enforce it if the measure withstands a legal challenge.

“If the county attorney tells me credibly that I don’t have any choice, or that I’m going to put our department and our county in legal jeopardy if I don’t, then I’ll have to think about that. It would irresponsible for me to do otherwise.

Dupnik said he agrees illegal immigrants should not be in the state but said his department already arrests and refers more illegal immigrants to the Borer Patrol than any other law enforcement agency in the state and doesn’t need a “new tool” to continue doing that.

“The state law is unnecessary,” Dupnik said. “We already have the authority to arrest illegal immigrants.”

A year ago, Dupnik said schools should be asking about the immigration status of students, saying it’s wrong for taxpayers “to spend the millions and millions and millions of dollars that we do catering to illegals.”

He stood behind that stance Wednesday, but said it doesn’t mean his deputies should be asking everybody on the street for documents.

The new law, if it withstands an expected legal challenge and goes into effect in August, would put the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in a “damned-if you do, damned if you don’t” position, he said, because they will be vulnerable to being sued for racial profiling suits if they follow the law and sued by state residents if they don’t follow the law.

He thinks the law will be challenged in the Supreme Court on two issues. First, the state cannot preempt the federal government on immigration. Second, the reasonable suspicion is constitutionally vague, he said.

He also called it an unfunded mandate. If Pima County Sheriff’s begin housing illegal immigrants they encounter during their patrols in the county jail, instead of turning them over to the Border Patrol, it would crippled the criminal justice system and cost taxpayers more.

His office has received death threats for its opposition of the law, but he declined to elaborate on those.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada and South Tucson Police Chief Richard Muñoz also oppose the law while Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu support it. Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor has called the new law an unfunded mandate and has raised concerns about officers having to determine immigration status of crime victims. He has said guidelines from the state board that handles police training as well as legal reviews will help determine how it is implemented in Tucson.

Dupnik’s defiance is the latest backlash to the law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last Friday. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón have condemned the law; Mexico issued a travel alert for Mexicans traveling to Arizona; the Sonoran governor canceled an annual meeting of business and political leaders; and some have called for a boycott of Arizona business.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com.