Police Chiefs Slam Arizona Immigration Law After Meeting With Holder

Police chiefs from across the country vented to Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday about Arizona's immigration law, saying it will burden law enforcement and that local sheriffs who claim to support the policy are driven by politics.

The meeting comes as the Department of Justice drafts a possible court challenge to Arizona's new law. Holder has voiced concern with the policy, and the police chiefs who met with him for about an hour Tuesday morning -- including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck whose city boycotted Arizona -- appeared to back him up.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said the law will create a "fracture" between police and the communities they serve as well as "severely strain our resources."

"We doubt the federal government can even handle the numbers of people that we will bring to them now for verification on immigration status," he said.

Though Arizona sheriffs have spoken out forcefully in favor of the law, Villasenor suggested police officers can give a more realistic perspective.

"When you talk about sheriffs, you're talking about elected officials, as opposed to appointed officials," he said. "That changes the perspective that you have when you come to a problem."

Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan cautioned that victims of crimes may be less inclined to call police out of fear that, if they don't speak English well, they may be questioned on their immigration status.

John Harris, head of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, acknowledged that the state is dealing with a "serious immigration problem," but said the law "takes away the discretion" of Arizona officers.

"We are stretched very thin right now," he said. "We don't have enough resources to continue to do this and to take on another responsibility."

The Arizona law would require state law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally provided they don't stop or question a suspect based on that issue alone. The law prohibits racial profiling, though critics have said it would inevitably open the door to discrimination.

But the law has generated widespread public support inside Arizona and among Republican and some Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who say Arizona officials were just trying to protect themselves in the absence of effective federal border enforcement.

If nothing else, the law has triggered a heated debate across the country and in Washington about immigration. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, reacting to President Obama's decision to send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, said the Arizona bill "has clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states."