We asked Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley last week what he planned to do with the illegal immigrants arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio on suspicion of smuggling themselves into the country.
Romley's spokesman, Bill FitzGerald, wrote back that a decision hadn't been made yet.
Today, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas were scheduled to launch a predictable tirade against what they say was Romley's decision to not charge the 32 immigrants who were arrested. That decision, according to Arpaio and Thomas, resulted in the immigrants' release to immigration authorities and subsequent deportation to Mexico without criminal charges.
Romley, however, put out a news release late Tuesday afternoon stating that he had asked Arpaio's office to send proper verification of the inmates' immigration status. As far as the County Attorney's Office was concerned, Romley's says, the immigrants were being held in jail pending a charging decision.
"If they were released by the Sheriff they should have been released to ICE and not onto the streets of Phoenix," Romley states in the release (see full text below).
Under the regime of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the 32 immigrants in question would have been tried and probably prosecuted successfully under a unique interpretation of the state's 2005 human smuggling law. Last year, we reported on Thomas' 750th and 1000th successful prosecution for self-smuggling.
Although Arizona's courts have upheld Thomas' interpretation, no other county attorney has brought such charges against an illegal immigrant, much less prosecuted immigrants for smuggling themselves. Is this because the other county attorneys are cowards, too fearful of the state's influential liberal forces to follow Thomas' lead?
It's probably because most people know these self-smuggling charges are pretty much a waste of time and money -- just an issue to help a politician tap into the public's anger over illegal immigration.
The type of show Thomas and Arpaio put on at today's news conference may give Thomas, who's running for state attorney general, points with some right wingers. Yet his campaign is still hiding from a burning question leftover from Thomas' days as county attorney: Thomas has not explained why he charged a respected Superior Court judge with bribery, when there was not a shred of evidence to support the allegation.
But we digress.
What happened to those 32 immigrants? They took the option to be "voluntarily deported," which is what most Mexican nationals choose to do when busted by immigration authorities. Essentially, it's nothing more than a bus ride back to the border.
By our calculations, this saved the county $212,000.
The Thomas way puts each illegal immigrant convicted of smuggling himself or herself in the county jail for 90 days. When we reported on this issue back in 2008, the per-day jail cost was $73.46 per inmate -- thus, $212,000 for 32 illlegal immigrants to stay in our jail for 90 days. When Thomas announced the 1000th prosecution under his interpretation last year, we figured that had cost the county $6.7 million in jail expenses alone.
Now, possibly, Romley will pay a political cost if one of the 32 illegal immigrants comes back to the United States and commits a serious crime. But Romley isn't in charge of enforcing Arizona's border with Mexico.
And although an illegal immigrant prosecuted under Thomas' rule would have a felony on his or her record that would make a second bust in the United States a more serious offense, a hardcore criminal -- as opposed to someone who's just coming here for work -- will come back to the United States if he wants to.
Criminal deportations didn't stop Erik Jovani Martinez from returning to shoot Phoenix police officer Nick Erfle to death. Nor did criminal deportations stop Santana Batiz-Aceves from returning to Arizona to rape girls in Chandler.
Thomas has no evidence that the people he's prosecuted have stayed in Mexico at higher rates than people who have been voluntarily deported. (We can say this with assurance, because the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement won't release data on the return rates of deported immigrants).
The "Thomas method" of prosecuting illegal immigrants only serves to emphasize that the solution to illegal immigration must be a federal one.
Full text of Romley news release below:
Statement of Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley
Regarding the Further Investigation of 32 Submitted Cases
The cases involving the 32 individuals referenced by the former County Attorney and Sheriff at a news conference this afternoon were in fact furthered back to the Sheriff to obtain certified records.
These individuals were in fact in the jail being held for ICE pending any charging decision. If they were released by the Sheriff they should have been released to ICE and not onto the streets of Phoenix.
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The former County Attorney was the only prosecutor in the state to bring charges of conspiracy to commit human smuggling against the individual paying to be smuggled.
Under the former County Attorney, the Sheriff's Office wasn't required to submit certified federal records regarding immigration status of the person arrested before charges were filed.
Records from Federal Authorities are required in order to prove immigration status at trial.
County Attorney Romley wants these records to be submitted to the County Attorney's Office before a decision is made to file a case.