Beware of local cops playing federal immigration officers. That's generally a lose-lose proposition, diminishing the ability of mistrusted police to fight crime in immigrant communities while subjecting Latinos, including American citizens, to a new type of ethnic profiling, a blanket "reasonable suspicion" for cops to stop foreign-looking individuals to ask to see their papers. So it's alarming that, across the nation, local police agencies are facing mounting pressure to enforce federal immigration laws. The pressure comes from those frustrated by the nation's deliberately lax enforcement of its immigration laws.
In places like Orange County, local law enforcement is going too far. Sheriff Michael S. Carona plans to train hundreds of deputies to enforce immigration laws while pursuing other investigations. The plan sounds overly broad, dangerously so. In Los Angeles County, meanwhile, Sheriff Lee Baca wants his deputies to ascertain the immigration status of convicted felons in county jails, an understandable move.
Most significantly, the Los Angeles Police Department is rethinking the granddaddy of the policies that say turning local cops into la migra is a bad idea: the department's 1979 Special Order 40. Fighting ever more menacing transnational gangs that have roots in Los Angeles and Central America, Chief William J. Bratton would like to "clarify" to his officers that in certain limited instances, they do have the authority to inquire into someone's immigration status. At issue are cases in which officers believe a suspect to be a convicted felon who has been deported, whose reentry into the U.S. is a federal felony that carries a 10-year sentence.