DOUGLAS—Gov. Janet Napolitano says she is ready for local police to battle illegal immigration—but only if the Legislature says the state can pay for it.
During a dusty, 300-mile tour of the Arizona-Mexico border Wednesday, Napolitano talked openly for the first time about giving sheriffs’ deputies and police officers the power to arrest suspected illegal immigrants, go after human smugglers’ bank accounts and other enforcement only federal officers currently can do.
Earlier this year, Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed a Republican bill that would have allowed local law enforcement to arrest suspected illegal immigrants. The bill offered no additional funding, causing strong opposition from law enforcement agencies around the state.
At the tour’s first stop in Douglas, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever urged Napolitano and four Republican state lawmakers accompanying her to draft a better alternative.
Later, Napolitano said she is prepared to support new powers for law enforcement, but only if state lawmakers don’t ask cities and counties to bear the expense. Napolitano said she will include more funding for local agencies in her 2006 budget proposal. She did not specify how much.
For most of her three years in office, Napolitano tried to keep Arizona out of what traditionally has been viewed as a federal responsibility.
Republicans are hoping Napolitano’s earlier reluctance to use state resources to tackle illegal immigration will hamper her re-election bid next year. House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, made it clear GOP lawmakers aren’t going to relent, even as Napolitano becomes more active. Weiers declared during a tour stop in Sells that immigration will be “the No. 1 issue for the Legislature when it returns in January.”