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Pima County Sheriff Refuses to Enforce “Unconstitutional” Controversial AZ Anti-Immigrant Law

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Protests continue across the country to denounce Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law, which allows police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. We go to Arizona to speak with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who calls the law “unconstitutional” and says he won’t enforce it. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Protests continue across the country to denounce Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law, which allows police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. On Tuesday, city councils in the Arizona cities of Flagstaff and Tucson both passed measures to sue the state over the new law. The state’s professional basketball team, the Phoenix Suns, wore shirts reading “Los Suns” last night in a tribute to Cinco de Mayo and to voice their opposition to the law. Steve Kerr, the team’s general manager, said the law, quote, “rings up images of Nazi Germany.” Student protests have occurred in Arizona and other states. On Wednesday, seventy students from five Flagstaff schools walked out of classes. And at the University of California at Berkeley, about seventy students have entered their fourth day of a hunger strike. The Reverend Al Sharpton traveled to Phoenix Wednesday to voice his support for a boycott of Arizona. And at the White House, President Obama weighed in on the law during a celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today reminds us that America’s diversity is America’s strength. That’s why I spoke out against the recently passed law in Arizona. Make no mistake — make no mistake, our immigration system is broken. And after so many years in which Washington has failed to meet its responsibilities, Americans are right to be frustrated, including folks along border states. But the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like or how they talk or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens and law-abiding immigrants into subjects of suspicion and abuse. We can’t divide the American people that way. That’s not the answer. That’s not who we are as the United States of America. And that’s why I have instructed my administration to closely monitor the new law in Arizona, to examine the civil rights and other implications that it may have. That’s why we have to close the door on this kind of misconceived action by meeting our obligations here in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama speaking on Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday.

The Arizona law has also been met with resistance by some top law enforcement officials in Arizona. Our first guest today is Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County in Arizona. The county includes the city of Tucson and over 120 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border. He recently wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Arizona’s Immigration Mistake.”

Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, we welcome you to Democracy Now!

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us why you think this law is a mistake and what you’re doing about it?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Sure. First of all, the law is totally unnecessary. We already have the authority to stop and detain illegal immigrants and turn them over to the Border Patrol, and we do that on a regular daily basis. This law will have no impact whatsoever on illegal immigration. None at all. We already have the authority. We didn’t need it. But what that law now does is put us in a position where we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, because on one hand we get sued by people who think we’re illegally profiling, and there’s a clause in the law which I’ve never heard of in any other law — and I’ve been a sheriff here for thirty years — that says any citizen who doesn’t think we are enforcing this law can sue us. And that is just outrageous. It’s an anti-law-enforcement law, in my opinion, puts us in an impossible situation. It puts us in an impossible situation with the Hispanic community. What they’ve done is driven a wedge between us and the Hispanic community. We depend on our community, Hispanics especially, for information, for cooperation in our crime-fighting efforts. What we really need to stop illegal immigration is more federal assistance on securing that border, and we desperately need reform of immigration laws.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sheriff, what about — you’ve raised especially questions about the standard for stopping people, the reasonable suspicion standard. Could you talk about that and your concerns about what that opens the door to?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: You bet. When the law was first passed, which would have been about nine days ago, there was a clause that said reasonable suspicion of anybody. And every Hispanic in this country, especially in Arizona, must have awakened — and I’ve talked to many of them personally — the next day to feel like they’ve been kicked in the teeth, like they are now second-class citizens, they have a target on their back, because when they leave the house, they’re going to have to take papers with them and prepare to be stopped and questioned. And that, overnight, has made Hispanics second-class citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what it is you actually are supposed to do if you were to enforce this law? The issue of reasonable suspicion. What do your sheriffs do? What do you do?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, let me tell you what we do now, and I don’t anticipate doing anything differently. I don’t think the new law precludes state and local law enforcement from turning over immigrants, illegal immigrants, to the Border Patrol. But in the routine course of our duties, when we encounter illegal immigrants, and there are a variety of ways that that happens, especially out in the rural desert areas, once we determine that they are in fact illegal, we call the Border Patrol and turn them over to them. But if we were to enforce this law, what — you know, the people that passed this law are very quick to complain about government overstepping, which is one of their biggest complaints, and the second one is taxation. If we were to start enforcing this law instead of turning them over to the Border Patrol like we do now, we would have to put them the Pima County Jail. We would put the jail into a crisis overnight. We would have to overwhelm the rest of the criminal justice system locally here and send the taxpayers a huge bill, which is just nonsense, in my opinion. It’s irresponsible of the legislature to do this, and it would be irresponsible of me to do it, as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But now, your county also includes a significant section of border area right there in southern Arizona. What do you say to those people in Arizona and other parts of the country who say that something has to be done to control the numbers of people who continue to pour into the United Stated over the border from Mexico?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, I say to them just what I just finished saying to you. The federal government needs to do a lot more to stop illegal immigration. And one of the things they need to do is illegal reform. And I understand that, and they understand that, as well. This isn’t rocket science. But a few years ago, when the Bush administration militarized the border with National Guardsmen, they put handcuffs on them. They weren’t allowed to do anything related to illegal aliens. They couldn’t even drive a bus that had illegal aliens in it. What we need to do is to put more people on the border to secure it, more technology and more agents. But we really need reform.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the issue that, within days, the legislature attempted to amend the bill they had just passed? What were the amendments that they made? And did it really have any substantive impact on the legislation, the original legislation?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, you know, it’s going to take legal experts with better legal minds than my own to answer that question. But the change that they made late last — a week ago, Thursday night, before they adjourned, was they said you can’t use race, ethnicity or country of origin solely as a reason for stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you be in legal trouble for not enforcing the law, Sheriff?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, that’s a question that the lawyers are going to have to address. But in my opinion, we are enforcing the law. If we’re arresting the illegal aliens and turning them over to the Border Patrol, that seems to be a far better approach from every point of view than what the legislature has done to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Your police chief, the Tucson police chief, Roberto Villaseñor, says he’s worried about the impact of the law on investigations, with victims and witnesses who might be afraid to come forward. He said he’s opposing the law’s enactment, but he’ll work to see that it’s implemented fairly in Tucson. Are you working with Chief Villaseñor?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: All of law enforcement in the state, I think, is working together. There are some of us who are elected officials and are taking political stands. But aside from that, there’s a lot of, in my opinion, unanimity as to the problems that this law is causing for law enforcement. It’s an anti-law-enforcement law, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: How much support do you have from other aspects of law enforcement, other departments around the state?

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: You know, the truth of the matter is, I don’t really know.

AMY GOODMAN: And have you spoken to the Governor, Governor Brewer?


AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, we want to thank you very much for being with us, sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, speaking to us from Tucson. Thanks so much for joining us.

SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Thanks for inviting me.

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