Rogers : Womack weighing new tack on illegals
Posted on Friday, November 10, 2006

ROGERS — A restraining order preventing a Pennsylvania city from regulating the local effects of illegal aliens has Rogers city officials shying away from a similar ordinance.

Instead, Mayor Steve Womack is considering a federal program that trains local police officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Womack said last month that he wanted to model an ordinance after a Hazleton, Pa., ordinance that calls illegal aliens a nuisance. The ordinance allows cities to penalize businesses and landlords that employ or rent to illegal aliens as a means of reducing drug and gang activity associated with the illegals, Womack said.

A federal judge, however, issued a restraining order against Hazleton, preventing the ordinance from taking effect. Womack has been meeting with community and Hispanic leaders since that ruling about two weeks ago.

“What has been expressed to me is that the ordinance is not the route we should take,” Womack said.

So, for now, the city will consider “the 287 (G ) program,” he said.

The 287 (G ) program, established in 1996 by amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, allows states and municipalities to contract with U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Officers who complete a five-week course tailored to their city’s needs can question, detain and process illegal aliens they encounter during daily law enforcement work, according to the agency.

Womack said the city could enroll at least six police officers from the narcotics, crime suppression and traffic units. If the program is successful, all 90 officers would go through the program, he said.

“We’ll rotate them,” he said.

Police Chief Steve Helms, who presented the Police Department’s 2007 proposed budget to the City Council on Thursday morning, said the program would require hiring additional officers to handle the daily workload while officers are being trained.

“If it’s going to happen, we’ll need additional personnel,” Helms said. “It’s something I’ve got to look into. I’ve cracked the ice at this point.”

The original Hazleton ordinance passed on Sept. 12, requires landlords to pay a $ 5 application fee per rental unit along with an annual renewal fee. Tenants are required to pay a one-time $ 10 fee to live in the city limits.

Businesses that employ illegal aliens are subject to losing their city business permits, according to the ordinance.

U. S. District Judge James Munley issued a 14-day restraining order against Hazleton on Oct. 31, one day before the law was to take effect, arguing that the ordinance could cause “irreparable harm” to residents.

Womack said the ordinance could be the second phase after the city enrolls officers in the federal training program.

Rogers City Attorney Ben Lipscomb said he has drafted language that strengthens the connection between illegal aliens and nuisance abatement, and is waiting for the mayor’s go-ahead before distributing it.

Womack said he has received hundreds of e-mails from residents supporting his effort, and Springdale officials have also expressed interest in an ordinance. But local and national groups including the Hispanic Women’s Organization, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union have said the Hazleton law could cause people to feel targeted because of their race or ethnicity.

Womack said he expects the same groups to oppose the federal training program.

“People will say that now we’ll have a bunch of cowboys on the streets rounding up illegal aliens,” he said. “But we should be able to train for that the same way we train for a DWI arrest.”

Area law enforcement officers should not get involved in federal issues because it could lead to racial profiling, said Margarita Solorzano, executive director of the Hispanic Women’s Organization in Springdale.

“City and community leaders should make sure our communities are safe, focusing on combating crime, not targeting a specific group of people,” Solorzano said. “This is not a local issue.”

The 287 (G ) program is widely used and does not contribute to profiling, said Susan Tully, the national field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Tully said the program has proved effective in Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida and Orange County, Calif. Requests for enrollment have increased because the program helps protect communities against crime and terrorism, she said. “There have been more requests in the last six months than there have been in the last three years,” Tully said. “You can rationalize all day long that most people aren’t terrorists and just want to work, but the bottom line is they didn’t stand in line and raise their hand [to be sworn in as citizens ].” Womack said the city will put together a formal plan by the end of the year, adding that he has no intention of depriving residents of their rights. “I don’t want someone being harassed because they’re brown,” Womack said. “This community is way above that.”