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Orange County

Group Asks Anaheim Police to Limit Queries

Church members seek a formal policy of not questioning suspects on immigration status.

May 02, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Orange County church members on Thursday asked Anaheim police to enact a formal policy instructing officers not to ask suspects about their immigration status.

The request was made by the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, a group of 12 congregations from various faiths that for years has protested the presence of immigration officers at Anaheim City Jail. Although they have accepted the fact that immigration officers won't be removed, group members now are lobbying for a written policy to prevent undocumented immigrants who commit minor violations from being deported.

The Police Department has an unwritten policy of not asking the immigration status of individuals suspected of minor violations, group members said.

"We believe the symbolic act of taking this unwritten policy and making it official would send a strong message of goodwill to the immigrant community," said organization member Reina Gonzalez of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim.

Anaheim Police spokesman Sgt. Rick Martinez said the department is studying the matter, and he noted that the proposal had not been brought to the department formally. It is possible that the City Council will discuss the matter, City Councilman Richard Chavez said.

Chavez said he supports a written policy because too often, immigrants feel they cannot report crimes because they fear deportation or simply don't trust police. He said a department policy might not need council consent.

"The police chief has indicated they are open to having an unwritten policy, so a written policy should not be a problem," Chavez said. "The perception is that undocumented immigrants are afraid of the police and it can hinder us in solving and stopping crimes."

Organization members said they had made their request as they expand a program with the Mexican consulate to get more city residents Mexican identification cards known as matriculas.

Without a matricula or any U.S. identification, individuals can be jailed for failure to identify themselves. In the Anaheim jail, their immigration status is checked by federal officials. In many cases, individuals who commit minor infractions are deported. With matriculas, however, the same individuals might never be brought to the jail for questioning.

The Mexican consulate in Santa Ana will be open on 10 Saturdays throughout the year. The church organization will help parishioners make consulate appointments after Sunday services at St. Boniface.

In a recent survey by the church organization of 778 members of St. Boniface's Spanish-speaking community, 64% said they would be less likely to call the police because of the presence of immigration officers, and 63% said they knew someone who had been deported after being pulled over by police for a minor traffic violation. Among the respondents, 38% were U.S. citizens.

Remedios Avila was among a dozen St. Boniface parishioners who came to hear the church organization's request Thursday. Avila said her son is being deported after committing a traffic violation.

A student at Santa Ana College who hopes to be a mechanic in the United States, Avila's 22-year-old son doesn't have a driver's license because as an undocumented immigrant, he is not eligible for one. She said he has not been in Mexico in 11 years.

"He really doesn't even know that country," Avila said as tears rolled down her cheeks. "I came today so people know that the police can create very big problems for very small reasons. I know my son should not have been driving, but I'm not sure his offense merits deportation."

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