A recent Los Angeles City Council recommendation that would bar immigration agents from police stations came under assault Wednesday from a band of activists who favor immigration restrictions.
In marked contrast to the public outrage over the Rampart corruption scandal--which has prompted widespread calls for police reform, including last week's council measure--the activists warned of the threat to law enforcement.
"It's idiotic that you and I, as taxpaying citizens, should pay for law enforcement agencies to fight each other over which laws they should enforce," said Bill King, a former U.S. Border Patrol chief. "There's no sense to it."
The council's action was a direct response to revelations that Rampart Division officers regularly collaborated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to target Latino residents for deportation--a violation of Special Order 40, a 1979 city policy that restricts police inquiries into residents' immigration status.
In a unanimous vote April 12, the council asked the Police Commission to take action that would bar INS or Border Patrol agents from LAPD facilities unless they are working on specific federal investigations, and then only with permission of the station's commanding officer. It also called on the Police Commission to reaffirm its support of Special Order 40.
But at a news conference Wednesday morning, King and four others condemned the council's action and announced the formation of a coalition seeking the repeal of Special Order 40. Three of the speakers, including King, were key proponents of Proposition 187, the 1994 state measure that targeted illegal immigrants.
The group contended that Special Order 40 hamstrings police and allows illegal immigrants who engage in criminal activity to go unchecked. If the policy were rescinded, they argue, police could report such criminals, who might otherwise walk free, to the INS.
Specifically, the policy states that "officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person," and prohibits police from turning over suspects accused of minor violations to the INS. However, they can notify the INS when they have booked an illegal immigrant on suspicion of felonies, multiple misdemeanors or a "high-grade" misdemeanor.
Every citizen should "enjoy the reasonable expectation that tax-supported law enforcement agencies at every level of government will work closely together," said King. "Special Order 40 precludes the kind of cooperation that would result in the removal of illegal alien gang members."
But enforcing federal immigration laws is not the responsibility of local police. And Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who introduced last week's council motion, said Special Order 40 has the important effect of encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward without fear of being deported.
"Let's say I'm an immigrant," Goldberg said. "I'm afraid to report a crime that's happened at my house. Then nobody knows it's happened. Nobody's looking for the person who did it. And if nobody's looking for the person who did it, that person's going to do it again, most likely."
While some activists spoke in subdued tones Wednesday, others voiced more radical views. Barbara Coe, chairman of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, blasted public officials for their "treason and treachery" in failing to enforce immigration laws and also criticized the census for "forbidding government officials to report illegal immigrants to the INS." The census promises confidentiality to encourage participation, thus ensuring a more accurate count.
Activists also pointed to the janitors' strike as an illustration of immigration gone awry.
"If the INS was to crack down on those janitorial companies and tell them they could only hire legal citizens, the laws of supply and demand would solve the problem overnight," said Glenn Spencer, president of Voice of Citizens Together, a San Fernando Valley-based group that seeks to stem immigration and has launched an effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis.
Goldberg, however, questioned whether the activists had other motives beyond Special Order 40. "I suspect what they want to do is to keep anti-immigrant sentiment alive to whatever extent possible," Goldberg said, "and I think that is a shame."