A Gila County sheriff’s deputy, right front, searches a suspected illegal immigrant in the Chase Bank parking lot, as another officer takes down his name and other information.
Photo by Andy Towle.
A routine traffic stop in Payson led to the detention of 15 people deputies suspected were illegal immigrants.
Gila County Deputy Leonard Kerszykowski made a traffic stop in Payson at about 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday, according to police reports.
The deputy noted about 15 people in the vehicle and asked for identification.
Several people in the vehicle admitted that they didn’t have any documents, said Lt. Tim Scott.
Kerszykowski then called for backup and the arriving officers took the suspected undocumented people to the Payson substation.
“When you’ve got that many people in the vehicle, the officer will talk to the driver to find out what’s going on. Most of them will tell you they’re here illegally,” said Scott.
Deputies then called for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to come and pick up the people detained, which usually involves a two- or three-hour wait.
The sheriff’s department called in members of the volunteer sheriff’s posse to sit with the people until the arrival of the federal agents, rather than putting the detainees in holding cells.
The state’s immigration enforcement law allows local law enforcement officers to check for proof of citizenship anytime they make a stop for some other offense.
Scott said officers generally ask for the identification of anyone in a car they pull over, but that “it depends on the officer. Most officers will ask for ID if there’s more than one person. It’s up to the officer. There’s nothing that states we have to (ask for documents). Officers usually like to know who they’re dealing with,” said Scott.
Even before the state adopted SB 1070, local law enforcement officers sometimes stopped undocumented immigrants, which they turned over to federal immigration officials.