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VOICES / A Forum for Community Issues | Essay

Don't Limit Cops on Immigration

March 25, 2000|HAL NETKIN | Hal Netkin is a block captain and anti-crime activist in Van Nuys

It has been alleged that the Rampart CRASH unit had been working with the INS to deport illegal aliens. "Immigration rights" activists immediately capitalized on this, saying that what the cops did was illegal. But the deportations were not by themselves illegal. What was illegal was that out-of-control and abusive CRASH officers violated LAPD's Special Order 40 policy.

Special Order 40, which originated 17 years ago with the L.A. City Council, mandates that police not question anyone they arrest about their immigration status until after criminal charges have been made. This mandate not only doesn't make sense, it is a virtual invitation for illegal alien criminals to come to Los Angeles. While a police officer may do a complete "make" on suspects stopped for minor traffic infractions, incredibly, they are not allowed by LAPD policy to inquire on the legal residency status of suspected felons.

In June 1997, a Los Angeles Times series about the 18th Street Gang said that, according to a confidential state Department of Justice report, 50% to 60% of that gang's members in Southern California were illegal aliens. Most of these gang members roam the streets without fear of the police because law-abiding neighborhood residents are intimidated by gangs into not getting involved in police matters.

In the 1930s, the infamous gangster, Al Capone, could never be convicted of murder because witnesses, fearing for their lives, would not come forward. After finding they could not pin anything on Capone, Chicago police working with the FBI, finally put him in jail on a income tax evasion charge.

If Special Order 40 were rescinded, the LAPD in conjunction with the INS would have a powerful tool to legitimately arrest and deport illegal alien criminal gang members.

Many point to a federal court order that invalidated Proposition 187 on the grounds that local police could not lawfully enforce immigration law. But on Oct. 4, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a landmark decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, confirming that state and local law enforcement officials are free to arrest criminals solely on the basis of illegally being in the U.S. This ruling finally put to rest any question that local governments have about their authority to join the federal government in the fight against illegal alien criminals.

The argument that innocent undocumented immigrants would not report crimes for fear of being deported is utter nonsense. The law-abiding undocumented immigrants in my neighborhood to whom I have spoken, all favor more power by police to rid us of criminal gang members. In the area of Van Nuys where I live, our "immigrant-friendly" community-policing efforts have obviated any fears that the undocumented may have of deportation for reporting crime. Immigrants have told me that they do not fear the Los Angeles police. What they do fear is gang retaliation for getting involved as witnesses.

Special Order 40 should be repealed and replaced with a common-sense policy that does not allow police to randomly question people about their immigration status, but would allow police officers to report known illegal alien criminals who might otherwise "walk," to the INS for deportation.

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