From Sanctuary to Safer City

By Jessica M. Vaughan on August 31, 2010

The police union in Houston, a former sanctuary city, is taking a look at the experience of Phoenix, which two years ago implemented a policy to allow its officers to call ICE to report suspected illegal aliens who were connected to other crimes. The implementation of this policy, which is similar to the one signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer and later blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in response to a Justice Department lawsuit, has contributed to a steady decline in violent and property crime rates in Phoenix, without generating a single complaint of civil rights violations or racial profiling, according to officer Mark Spencer. Spencer is president of the Phoenix police union and recently gave a presentation to officers in Houston.

Until 2008, Phoenix was considered by many to be a sanctuary for illegal aliens. The city's policy, reportedly the brain child of then-chief Harold Hurtt, prohibited police officers from contacting ICE about a suspected illegal alien unless the alien had committed a serious crime. According to Spencer, "Basically a body in the street at the hands of an illegal alien was the cost of a police phone call to ICE." Under the new policy, implemented in March, 2008 as a result of pressure from the police union and the public after the killing of a Scottsdale police officer by a previously deported illegal alien, officers are allowed to make a discretionary phone call to ICE if a person they encounter in connection with a crime is suspected of being an illegal alien. More than 3,000 illegal aliens have been referred to ICE since the policy was adopted. According to Spencer, Phoenix's experience was a successful test-drive for SB 1070, and he hopes it will inspire other police agencies.

Spencer's presentation provides a graphic description of the public safety problems caused by large-scale illegal immigration through Arizona and offers statistics to illustrate the crime problems in Phoenix that are attributed to illegal aliens (which go far beyond the issue of alien smuggling-related kidnappings). For instance, more than 50 percent of state arrests for narcotics and dangerous drug dealing are illegal aliens. Fifty percent of state DUI arrests are illegal aliens. More than half of the murder victims are Hispanic, and half of them were killed by illegal aliens. Spencer's presentation also includes excerpts from Judge Bolton's curious holdings that the implementation of the provisions of the Arizona law that call for officers to report suspected illegal aliens to ICE would be irreparably harmful to the public interest.

Shortly after crafting Phoenix's sanctuary policy, Harold Hurtt left Phoenix to accept a job as chief in Houston. He put a similar policy into place there, which was revised years later after several Houston police officers lost their lives at the hands of illegal aliens. Hurtt was recently hired to be the top ICE liaison to state and local law enforcement agencies, presumably because his philosophy of state and local involvement in immigration law enforcement closely matches this administration's. He is reportedly keeping a very low profile so far, though, with deputy Ann Yom Steel doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of communicating to local law enforcement partners about the dismantling of local immigration enforcement initiatives.