Illegal-Immigration Opponent Russell Pearce Could be Appointed Head of DPS, News Outlets Say


Here's one from the rumor mill:

Russell Pearce (above), the state senator from Mesa who's led the charge against illegal immigration in Arizona, could be appointed head of the state Department of Public Safety.

The Phoenix Business Journal and KTAR (92.3 FM) quote anonymous insiders at the state Capitol who are supposedly talking about this explosive idea. But if you support turning trooopers into migrant-hunting shock troops, don't get too excited. Governor Jan Brewer couldn't appoint Pearce sooner than 2011, Brewer's press secretary told the news outlets. There's the little matter of an election between now and then, and Brewer hasn't officially stated she'll run.

But maybe the law can be bent. If so, it would be a stunning change of the guard. 

The DPS, under its current director, Roger Vanderpool, has managed to take the high road on illegal immigration enforcement in the last few years, in contrast to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, by avoiding the appearance of racial profiling. (The agency's probably a bit sensitive on the issue since getting accused by the ACLU of racially profiling drivers during traffic stops).

Putting Pearce in charge would change all that. Consider that no law enforcement agency besides Arpaio's has sought to have illegal immigrants prosecuted for smuggling themselves into the country. Pearce would probably instruct state troopers to investigate and submit charges against the immigrants for violating conspiracy laws -- charges that have been okay'd by Arizona courts.

The DPS busts thousands of illegal immigrants across the state, and if those busts turned into local court cases -- with each immigrant serving a few months in jail -- the costs to taxpayers would be enormous. The way it works now, the DPS turns the arrested migrants over to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But let's face it -- either way, the immigrants are likely to sneak back. The only question is how much the state will pay to delay their return trip.

The most drastic thing Pearce could do, though, would be to order state troopers to hunt, in the words of Sheriff Arpaio, people who look like they're from Mexico.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.