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Local Police Help on Immigration Weighed

April 04, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is considering a proposal to let local and state police officers enforce immigration laws in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some police departments are resisting the idea of enforcing noncriminal immigration violations, but Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson said Wednesday that the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not have enough federal agents to do the work.

"With more than 7 million illegal aliens in the United States and only 2,000 INS [investigators] to handle interior enforcement, the Department of Justice is exploring many options to enforce immigration laws," he said.

Some police departments are reluctant to get involved in immigration violations because of concerns over racial profiling and because they feel it could discourage immigrants from coming forward to help in criminal cases.

Immigrant roundups conducted by local authorities in conjunction with the Border Patrol in Chandler, Ariz., in 1997, led to the apprehension of 435 illegal immigrants. But residents sued the city for $35 million because they were stopped and asked to prove citizenship. The city settled the suit, paying the plaintiffs $400,000.

"We've had a long-standing policy that our officers are not U.S. immigration officials," said David Cohen, San Diego Police Department spokesman. "We operate with one of the smallest big-city police departments, and our people are plenty busy responding to calls for service and doing proactive community policing work."

But Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that, "at a time like this in particular, we welcome the opportunity." He said it does not make sense for local police to enforce other federal laws and not immigration laws.

"Every member of the Fraternal Order of Police is a sworn law enforcement officer," he said. "We don't make judgments as to what laws are appropriate to be enforced."

Mayors in several major cities have rejected local involvement in enforcing immigration laws, said Angela Kelley, deputy director for the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group.

"It's appalling the attorney general thinks he knows more than the mayors of the cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to name a few, about how to do community and local policing," Kelley said.

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