Tuesday, June 4, 2002
Delgadillo Opposes Federal Plan to Allow Local Police to Enforce Immigration Laws
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A plan floated by federal officials to allow local police to enforce federal immigration laws would seriously jeopardize the strides made by the Los Angeles Police Department and city officials to forge strong ties with immigrant communities, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said yesterday.
“Immigrants from around the world come to this city to pursue their dreams, and those dreams would be quashed if we are forced to enforce immigration laws at the local level,” Delgadillo said.
Delgadillo yesterday released a letter he sent to President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft last week that urged them to maintain the current policy of separating the enforcement of immigration laws from the duties of local police
“The development and enforcement of national immigration policy is—and should remain—the responsibility of the federal government,” Delgadillo wrote.
News reports surfaced in April that Ashcroft is considering giving local police the power to enforce immigration laws throughout the country, a policy change which would reverse a 1996 decision by the Department of Justice to leave immigration laws enforcement to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Currently it is up to each law enforcement agency to create their own policy in turning over undocumented aliens to the INS, department spokesman Francisco Arcaute said.
“It’s up to that police officer or agency to contact us,” Arcaute said. “There is no automatic red button that pops up.”
Delgadillo argued shifting the burden of enforcement would make it extremely difficult for to combat crime in immigrant communities because residents will think twice about reporting a crime or cooperating as a witness in a crime investigation if the investigating officers have the power to deport them.
“Residents of our Los Angeles communities will have to balance the desire to assist local law enforcement with their fear of federal immigration officials investigating not only them, but their family and their friends,” Delgadillo said.
And it would destroy the efforts made by the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office to work with immigrant communities to make their neighborhoods safer, he said.
Delgadillo specifically pointed out that his Neighborhood Prosecutors program, in which prosecutors partner with community groups and police to address “quality-of-life” crimes in specific neighborhood, would be compromised because immigrants would no longer be willing to work with police.
Delgadillo also noted LAPD officers are not trained in immigration law or how to enforce it.
“Immigration law is very complicated and for someone who hasn’t had a lot of training to determine who is in the country legally and who is not is a difficult thing,” Douglas Rivlin, of the National Immigration Forum, said. The Washington D.C.-based group represents immigration rights.
A policy change would also blur the line between separation of the powers of the federal and local governments, Delgadillo said.
“We believe the federal government cannot force us to do this,” he said.
LAPD Sgt. John Pasquariello said the department isn’t anticipating any change in its own policy. Since 1979, the LAPD has been operating under Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from instigating investigations to discover whether a person is an illegal immigrant.
“We didn’t want anyone, regardless of their status, to be afraid to call us if they are a victim of a crime,” Pasquariello said. “That’s our policy now and that’s going to be our policy in the future.”
The order was adopted to try to assure crime victims they would not face possible deportation if they reported crimes, but anti-immigrant groups have complained that the directive protects those in the country illegally while immigrant rights groups have complained that it is selectively enforced.
Delgadillo is the latest in a string of local and federal officials, along with immigration rights groups and law enforcement agencies, to oppose the plan.
The National Immigration Forum’s website lists more than 30 law enforcement agencies across the country who oppose the proposal, including the Chicago, Denver, Miami, and Washington D.C. Police Departments.
But state officials from Florida and South Carolina have already expressed interest in pursuing agreements with the Justice Department to allow law enforcement officers to be deputized as INS agents or to have the power to arrest illegal immigrants deemed to be threats to national security.
California has had previous brushes with requiring local police to enforce immigration laws, including Proposition 187 which required local and state law enforcement agencies to turn in suspected illegal immigrants to the INS. Approved by voters in 1994, the ballot initiative was later largely struck down by a federal judge.
And in 1996 Congress authorized state and local police to be deputized to enforce immigration law, but the plan was defeated by civil rights and Latino activists in Utah after Salt Lake City officials responded to the offer.
The Department of Justice did not return calls for comment.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company