JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri sheriffs are giving their support to law officers working to enforce state and federal immigration laws along the Mexican border.
The Missouri group endorsed a statement that also approved of efforts by states, such as Arizona, to pass their own immigration laws and noted that law officers working near the border face increased dangers.
"We realize the failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws has forced states like Arizona to pass their own legislation to accomplish this goal, and we applaud those states for doing so," the resolution states.
Mick Covington, the executive director for the Missouri Sheriffs' Association, said Wednesday the organization approved the statement during the group's annual meeting earlier this week. Covington said more than 100 members voted to approve it and that no one dissented.
The Arizona law requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, and it becomes a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work.
Last month, a federal judge blocked most of the law from taking effect, concluding that the federal government has a good chance of succeeding with its lawsuit challenging Arizona's law. The federal government opposes the state legislation on grounds that it usurps federal authority over immigration policy. Other critics of the Arizona law have raised concerns that it could lead to racial profiling.
Arizona has appealed the decision blocking the law from taking effect.
Missouri lawmakers in 2008 approved their own immigration bill that penalizes businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, orders the Missouri State Highway Patrol to seek special federal immigration training and bars Missouri cities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Under the legislation, Missouri law officers are to verify the immigration status of those whom they arrest.
The Missouri Catholic Conference has argued that the federal government should take the lead in setting immigration policy.
"If you have every state enforcing immigration policy, you get into some crazy situations," said Mike Hoey, the executive director for the Missouri Catholic Conference.
Hoey said immigration policy needs to set up an orderly system but also one that demonstrates compassion for people seeking to migrate and improve their lives. He said the federal government has not shown leadership on immigration and that has created a vacuum frustrated states have felt compelled to fill.