Police in Scottsdale, Arizona, have begun to ask about the residency status of every suspect they arrest, holding those who are in the country illegally for federal immigration officials.
The new effort is a result of the September shooting death of Phoenix police officer Nick Erfle, who was killed by an illegal immigrant, Erik Jovani Martinez. Martinez was later killed by police after he stole a car and took a hostage.
Martinez had been released by Scottsdale police in May 2006 on a minor charge because they did not know U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had deported him twice before.
"That caused us to look at what we're asking suspects," Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark said. "If we arrest someone and then find that we called ICE and they put a hold on them, then we know they have been deported and are back again."
Now Scottsdale police ask every suspect about their citizenship and log calls to ICE to create a database of possible illegal immigrants who may turn up again in Scottsdale.
City Councilman Jim Lane said there used to be a strong feeling among police to avoid questions about immigration status.
But now, he said, "I think we have facilitated some change in response to an issue, as tragic as it was."
No racial profiling, mayor says
Mayor Mary Manross supports the policy change and said that because every suspect is asked about citizenship, police are not engaging in racial profiling.
"I would not tolerate that," Manross said. "I think the chief has struck the right balance to do what we want to achieve."
Clark said Scottsdale officers did not routinely call ICE because the agency was short-handed and could not always respond.
Eduardo Preciado, an assistant ICE field officer in Phoenix, said the agency was short-staffed until about a year ago when it added agents to man phones and to assist local law enforcement agencies.
"Now we respond to every call," he said.