AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona's immigration law yesterday, it left in place what might be called the centerpiece of that law. That's the provision that requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people who are stopped for other reasons.
Roberto Villasenor is police chief for the city of Tucson. We've been talking with him periodically about SB1070, as the law is known. And he tells us today that what the court left in place is the most problematic provision for his police force.
ROBERTSO VILLASENOR: We have always cooperated with federal authorities. When we came across individuals that we felt were illegally in the country, we would contact - here in Tucson, we deal with Border Patrol, so I'm just going to talk from that perspective. We would contact Border Patrol and they would either send an officer out there or tell us what action to take. But that was always at the discretion of the officer, taking in consideration the workload that was going on.
Now, with the new provision, that discretion has been taken away, for the most part, from the officer, because they are required to check with Border Patrol on the legal status of the individual.
CORNISH: So, on a practical level, what if anything does this change for you?
VILLASENOR: Well, where it really changes things is on the case of arrest. We arrest a large number of people and not - the majority of them don't go to jail. Each year, about 36,000 people we arrest for criminal violations, we give them a citation at the scene and then release them from the scene.
ROBERTO VILLASENOR: The new law requires that we get verification on their immigration status prior to release, and if we don't get that verification, then we are supposed to detain them. That would be a huge expense to this community and then you start saying all the other cities in Arizona - Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, Tempe - that number starts to become astronomical quite quickly.
CORNISH: Now, I heard that there was supposed to be some training going on for officers in terms of implementing the law this summer. What's involved in that training? How, if anything, does it change going forward?
VILLASENOR: Well, the training is basically the same 90-minute video that was put out two years ago. I took part in helping to produce that video. I said then that I felt the video was inadequate for all the complexities that the officers are going to face, so we added additional training for our department.
I think there are going to be a lot of issues with this legislation that we will find out as we enforce it and through probably court precedent and litigation that will tell us how we are to enforce this law.
CORNISH: What are the top two issues you're concerned about? You talked about complexities.
VILLASENOR: Well, there are some unanswered questions, for one being will the federal government - how will they respond to our inquiries? Will they have additional resources to respond to those inquiries? The fact of when we do start enforcing the law, what type of litigation will be brought to us, because I have said over and over, I expect litigation from both sides of the spectrum to be brought forward.
CORNISH: So you're assuming people will sue the department once it's taken some action one way or another?
VILLASENOR: I think people will sue us, some saying that we're not enforcing this law, and some saying that we are engaging in racial profiling by enforcing this law. I do not believe that my officers will engage in racial profiling, but I believe they will be accused of engaging in racial profiling because this topic is so sensitive and high profile right now.
CORNISH: Tucson's known as a pretty liberal city in a conservative state - conservative leaning state, at the very least - and I'm wondering, how does your reaction compare with what you're hearing from other police chiefs?
VILLASENOR: The chiefs are all pretty similar. We understand that this really is not the role of local law enforcement, but we also understand that the ruling has been made. This will change how a lot of agencies are doing business. How much it changes how we do business, we're trying to work out right now, because our main responsibility has to be for the public safety of all people in the community.
I do not believe local law enforcement should take on the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement. We're dealing with criminal misconduct that threatens the safety and property of all people in our community, not with whether someone came across the border and filled out the proper paperwork or not.
CORNISH: Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, thank you for talking with us.
VILLASENOR: Thank you very much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.