10-6-05 - U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Wednesday that local officials should be given extended immigration powers to stop the "hemorrhaging" at U.S. borders, drawing criticism from advocacy groups who claim the move would open the door for an increase in unreported crimes and racial profiling.
The Texas Republican's proposed legislation would allow local law enforcement to arrest and detain illegal immigrants for immigration violations. It would also implement a Border Patrol marshals program giving states the power to license police officers, marshals and FBI agents who want to volunteer to patrol the border.
The proposal drew praise Wednesday from other lawmakers, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who said the legislation would safeguard Americans' security.
"It's not just a question of people coming into our country who want to work here," Cornyn said. "It's people who will exploit those same avenues of entry into the United States to come here to kill innocent Americans."
But members of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said the legislation would harm public safety, discouraging immigrants from reporting crimes out of deportation fears.
"Immigrants will become reluctant to report crime, thus encouraging criminals to further victimize these immigrants and as a result increasing violence in our streets," said Ana Yanez-Correa, the coalition's executive director.
She also raised concerns about racial profiling as a result of the legislation.
"The U.S. Constitution does not require the public to carry any proof of citizenship; therefore the agents would be forced to stop and question people of a certain ethnic group, who speak a different language and have an accent," she said.
Alabama, Florida and Los Angeles County, Calif. have already obtained federal approval to train civilian law enforcement officers so they can arrest suspected illegal immigrants. Local officials must first go through training to get such approval.
Members of a volunteer civilian border patrol group known as the Minutemen have recently been staging patrols in U.S. border states to stem illegal immigration. The group has sparked national controversy, viewed by some as courageous and others as vigilantes.
Hutchison cited the Minutemen's self-professed mission as a motivation behind her legislation.
"There is no doubt the Minutemen highlighted the dire need for more agents to patrol our borders," Hutchison said. "Trained, licensed peace officers could be a valuable and accountable asset to supplement our Border Patrol."