FP: Andrew Thomas, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Thomas: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
FP: Illegal immigration is a serious issue facing the Southwest today. Tell us a bit about its main impact.
Thomas: Illegal immigration has had a tremendous impact on Arizona and the United States. As the chief prosecuting attorney for the metropolitan Phoenix area, I see the impact most clearly in the criminal justice arena. There is a very strong and undeniable connection between illegal immigration and our crime rate. This is particularly true of crimes such as identity theft, auto theft, violent crimes, and the drug trade.
Illegal aliens often seek phony identities and documents for employment purposes. This provides a ready market for identity thieves, who are often meth heads just looking for enough cash for their next fix. “Coyotes,” or human smugglers, also need cheap transportation to transport their human cargo, and they’ve found stolen vehicles work well for this purpose.
Coyotes often hold illegal immigrants for ransom. They sometimes assault or even murder illegal immigrants or their competitors in the human smuggling trade. Coyotes have engaged in running gun battles with each other in Arizona, jeopardizing the safety of bystanders.
All of this underscores why Arizona leads the nation in its rates of both illegal immigration and crime. Arizona has the highest crime rate of all 50 states, and that’s directly related to our illegal immigration crisis.
FP: What is your primary goal in holding this conference?
Thomas: I hope to provide a forum where the illegal immigration crisis, and possible solutions to this crisis, can be discussed. This is an issue of critical importance to the people of this region and this country, and yet many of our political leaders traditionally have been hesitant to talk about it. The result has been that people have been deprived of an open and honest discussion of this hugely important issue, and serious reform has been stifled for decades.
FP: Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano held a conference on illegal immigration this summer. How does your conference differ?
Thomas: Governor Napolitano’s conference was not so much a conference as an amen corner of people who agree with her views. The governor carefully picked the speakers to ensure that everyone who was allowed to actively participate was in agreement with her. For example, every panelist who had expressed an opinion on the subject agreed with her position that state and local law enforcement agencies should not detain illegal immigrants encountered in the normal course of their duties. Also, the governor’s event was closed to the public, the press, and even state legislators. State troopers physically barred the doors to the auditorium at Northern Arizona University, preventing legislators and journalists from entering in a manner strikingly reminiscent of George Wallace and his troopers standing in the schoolhouse doors.
After mentioning at a press conference that I hadn’t received an invitation to the event, I belatedly received one, but then was not allowed to participate in a meaningful fashion. This is despite the fact that my office prosecutes two-thirds of the felonies committed in Arizona and is one of the largest prosecutor’s offices in the country.
At our conference, by contrast, we have encouraged dissenting opinions, and members of the public and media are heartily invited rather than barred from attending. We have invited representatives from the ACLU, National Council of La Raza, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. Many of them have declined, thus proving something I long suspected: when conservatives are invited to hostile forums such as Ivy League universities, they are often treated rudely but at least show up and participate; when conservatives host a conference and invite left-wing organizations, they typically lack the courage to be in the minority and refuse to participate. But those invitations still stand, and maybe they’ll show up after all.
In addition, the event is open to the public (there is a $55 registration fee), and the press is certainly encouraged to attend and cover the event.
FP: Who are some of the well-known experts and commentators that will attend?
Thomas: U.S. Congressmen Tom Tancredo and J.D. Hayworth; John Leo, nationally syndicated columnist and columnist with U.S. News & World Report; John Fund and Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal; Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County, Arizona, which shares many miles of border with Mexico; Pete Nunez, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California; Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the country’s preeminent think-tanks on illegal immigrations; Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute; and many other leading authorities on illegal immigration. They will offer an array of diverse viewpoints.
FP: What groups in particular would benefit from attending your conference?
Thomas: I think any citizen interested in learning about and discussing illegal immigration will find this a stimulating conference. We also will have breakout sessions for law enforcement officials and attorneys seeking specialized training in dealing with illegal immigration issues that arise in the criminal justice system.
FP: You are the chief law enforcement official for Maricopa County, the fourth largest county in the United States and the largest county in Arizona, which is the main gateway state for illegal immigration on the United State’s southern border. Would you describe some of the challenges that illegal immigration presents you as a law enforcement official?
Thomas: In addition to the problems described above, we also must deal with illegal immigrants who commit crimes here and then abscond. Illegal immigrant defendants have very little incentive not to abscond to their home country rather than face the prospect of criminal charges and possibly prison here in Arizona. And once they abscond, we may never see them again, and they may never be held accountable for the crimes they have committed in Arizona. If they are ever found, extradition can be a problem. For example, the government of Mexico refuses to extradite people accused of murder unless we agree not to seek the death penalty or even a natural-life prison sentence against them.
FP: Since the federal government has been unable to secure this country’s borders, is it time for state and local law enforcement to provide assistance to the federal government in enforcing immigration law?
Thomas: Absolutely. Public opinion polls have shown overwhelming support for state and local law enforcement assisting the federal government with immigration enforcement, and it’s the right thing to do. When state and local law enforcement officers encounter illegal immigrants in the normal course and scope of their duties, they should detain them and hand them over to federal authorities.
FP: You have pushed for a change to the Arizona Constitution that would allow for denial of bail to illegal immigrants who commit serious felonies. Could you expand a bit on what this change would do and why it is needed?
Thomas: This goes back to the absconding problem. A person who is here illegally is a significant flight risk. The problem is two-fold. First, there are illegal immigrants who, once they make bail, promptly slip back across the border. Second, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely deports people charged with serious crimes in Arizona before these defendants can be brought to trial. Of course, few of them bother to return to the United States to face the music. We’ve had very serious criminals—murderers, child molesters, drug dealers, violent criminals—take advantage of both escape hatches.
The change to the Arizona Constitution that I’m supporting, and that will go before the voters in November 2006, would amend our state constitution to deny bail to illegal immigrants accused of committing serious felonies. This reform would be the first of its kind in the nation. It’s long overdue.
FP: Andrew Thomas, thank you for joining us today and we wish your conference great success.
Thomas: Thank you.
For more information on the Southwest Conference on Illegal Immigration, Border Security, and Crime and to register, go to immigrationconference.com.
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