Supporters of a proposed Los Angeles voter initiative that would allow police to arrest illegal-immigrant gang members solely for being in the country illegally said they collected enough petition signatures before Friday's deadline to qualify the measure for the May ballot.
The signatures still need to be verified by the Los Angeles city clerk's office, a process that could take up to three weeks. Proponents, who needed to gather 73,963 signatures from valid registered voters in the city, said they had submitted more than 76,000.
Jamiel's Law, as it is known, is named after 17-year-old Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw II, who was gunned down in March allegedly by a reputed gang member who was in the country illegally. The measure would modify the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from initiating contact with individuals for the sole purpose of determining whether they are illegal immigrants.
Immigrant-rights advocates and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton strongly oppose Jamiel's Law, saying it is unnecessary and opens a backdoor to "racial profiling" by law enforcement. Bratton, when testifying before the City Council in April, said officers already have the authority to tell immigration authorities when known gang members have committed crimes.
Proponents dismiss critics as being more concerned with political correctness than public safety. They said the proposal is focused solely on gang members who have been documented as such by law enforcement agencies, and would allow them to be arrested, prosecuted and deported just for being illegal immigrants.
"The whole point of Jamiel's Law is that we shouldn't wait for the dead body. If you can't get a gang member for a crime -- and it's a crime to enter the country illegal -- get them for that," said the measure's author, mayoral candidate Walter Moore.
However, Father Richard Estrada, who does extensive work with immigrants and founded a shelter for young homeless men in Boyle Heights, said that any such measure would allow overzealous law enforcement officials to pull over male Latino drivers at will and would distract officers from the task of getting dangerous criminals off the streets.
"I hope they don't" get enough signatures," said Estrada, an associate pastor at the 189-year-old Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles. "What are they going to do? Are they going to arrest all the immigrant kids who are gang members or look like it or are at the wrong place at the wrong time? We need officers to really go after the bad guys."
Supporters of Jamiel's Law had until 5 p.m. Friday to turn in petition signatures to the city clerk's office. City elections officials will count the signatures and conduct a sampling to determine if they are from valid registered voters who live within the city limits.
Jamiel Shaw's family has actively and aggressively supported the measure, and was collecting signatures across the city up until Friday's deadline.
"What makes me so sad is that we have to fight so hard just to report gang members who are in this country illegally," said Shaw's aunt, Althea Shaw, 47, of Los Angeles. "This is not about color. This is not about Latino versus black. It's about right and wrong, about life and death."
The alleged killer, Pedro Espinoza, awaits trial on a murder charge.
Bratton told the council that the LAPD's Special Order 40 had no connection to Shaw's death. Espinoza had been arrested by Culver City police months before Shaw's killing and had told officers that he was a U.S. citizen. The day before the shooting, he was released from Los Angeles County Jail, which is run by the county Sheriff's Department. But after Shaw's slaying, immigration officials determined that Espinoza had been born in Mexico and had crossed the border illegally with his family at age 4.