Police chiefs from around the United States came to Washington Wednesday to express concern about a controversial new immigration law in the southwestern state of Arizona.
Police chiefs from Arizona and from around the country met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The chiefs are concerned about the impact of a new immigration law passed in Arizona that requires local law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of anyone during a police stop if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal immigrant. Click here to read the actual text of the law.
Among those who met with the attorney general was the police chief of Tucson, Arizona, Roberto Villasenor. He spoke to reporters after the meeting. "This is not the focus of local law enforcement. Immigration is the focus of the federal government, and by bringing local law enforcement into the picture it damages that relationship that we have spent years cultivating to try and get us into a position where we can work well with our community," he said.
Police chiefs from other major U.S. cities including Houston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles also took part in the closed-door meeting.
Charlie Beck is the chief of police in Los Angeles. Beck argues that requiring police officers to check on the immigration status of individuals will become a major distraction for law enforcement. "Laws like this will actually increase crime, not decrease crime. And they do that because they decrease reporting, they decrease witnesses coming forward, they stop our ability to solve our major crimes and they break down a trust that we have been building for decades," he said.
Attorney General Holder did not speak with reporters. He is considering a legal challenge to the Arizona law.
But other police officials in Arizona support the law and said the police chiefs should be preparing to implement the law later this year when it takes effect, rather than meet with officials in Washington.
The Arizona law came about after a political backlash against illegal immigration in the state, fueled in part by criminal incidents allegedly involving illegal immigrants.
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to deploy 1,200 additional National Guard troops along the southwestern border to bolster security along the border with Mexico, though some Republicans were quick to complain that number is too small.
The focus on border security comes after a number of lawmakers from southwestern states complained about the issue, including Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas. "This country protects the borders of other nations better than it protects our own border, and it is important that we make this border security issue a priority for the national security of the United States," he said.
Although the Arizona law remains controversial, public opinion polls show Americans generally support it. A new poll by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo found that 61 percent of those asked favor the new law, but that there was a sharp divide between whites and Latinos over the law.
70 percent of whites support the law, but only 31 percent of Latinos support it. In addition, the survey found that 58 percent of Latinos strongly oppose the law, which goes into effect later this year.