Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is a police state thug who will make things worse!

Pretending that the prison 'solution' works for migrants

Mar. 17, 2006 12:00 AM

Politics is a game of pretend. Politicians pretend to have solutions, and we pretend to believe them. As silly as this is, it could be worse. The "solutions" actually could be put into effect.

For instance, let's pretend that Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas got his way with illegal immigrants. Recently, with the help of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Thomas was able to charge as "conspirators" more than 50 people caught while allegedly being smuggled into the United States. If convicted, each could be sent to state prison for more than two years.

I've heard from a number of people who approve of this "solution." Thomas has complained because other law enforcement agencies aren't following the sheriff's lead. Most turn over suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities for possible deportation.

"The bottom line is Arizona has a tremendous problem with illegal immigration," Thomas has said. "Look, if you're going to enter Maricopa County and try to commit a felony, you're going to jail and you're going to be prosecuted."

Let's pretend that Thomas got his way. Now that we know what it's going to cost the "conspirators" in terms of prison, what is it going to cost us in terms of dollars?

According to a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, officers in the city have picked up over 300 undocumented immigrants in the past month alone. The police turned over those men, women and children to federal immigration agents.

But what if they hadn't? What if they had done what Thomas wanted?

"Here are some of the issues we'd be dealing with as a police agency," said Sgt. Andy Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman. "When there are 30 or 40 or 50 undocumented persons who are found, we'd have to take officers off the street to transport those people to jail and spend time booking them. We don't have the manpower. And before you can book them, you have to determine their immigration status. We are not trained to do it, nor do we have the money to do that training. Finally, we want to arrest and book the smugglers. If we book the victims, it wouldn't work to get them to testify against the smugglers. So what you have is a financial impact, a manpower impact and a public-safety impact."

And that's just the first step in the criminal justice process.

Each "suspect" is guaranteed legal representation. Each also could get a trial. No one I know who is familiar with the court system can imagine that costing less than a few thousand dollars. Each.

And what if they're convicted? The price of housing a person in an Arizona state prison is more than $50 a day.

If Phoenix averages about 300 immigrants a month, that works out to about 3,600 per year.

If they're sent to prison at $50 a day each, that's already $65.7 million a year.

If each of them costs a few thousand to get through the judicial process, that's another $7 million, at least.

And that doesn't count the additional police expenditures or the impact of the criminals who don't get caught and the crimes that subsequently don't get prosecuted because our cops are busy booking people into jail who only want to clean our hotel rooms, build your houses, pick our crops or mow our lawns.

And that's just from the city of Phoenix. What happens when we factor in every other city and town in the state, then add the cost of all the new prisons we'd have to build and staff?

Can we even pretend to have that much money?

Reach Montini at (602) 444-8978 or Read his blog at

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