News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Monday, June 30, 2008

Should local police enforce immigration laws?

On the surface, checking the immigration status of anyone a police officer questions sounds like a sensible policy. But Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton does not agree. Chief Bratton strongly supports the LAPD’s Special Order 40 – a policy in place since 1979 that prohibits LAPD officers from initiating contact with people for the sole purpose of learning their immigration status.

According to Chief Bratton, Special Order 40 is “an essential crime fighting tool for us.” His reasons come from years of experience protecting the public. Bratton understands police officers need community cooperation to control violent crime. Witnesses, victims and informants who are illegal immigrants must be willing to come forward and speak with police officers without fear of being deported.

Chief Bratton along with every other LAPD chief since 1979 also believes police officers should spend their time nabbing dangerous criminals instead of arresting undocumented workers doing honest jobs. (Working without a visa is not a criminal act, by the way. It is a civil violation, like jaywalking or simple speeding.)

Of course, not everyone agrees. In 2006, a conservative legal group based in Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Los Angeles resident claiming Special Order 40 was an improper expenditure of public money. The suit also alleged Special Order 40 blocked cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents. However, on June 25th 2008 a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Within the last year, a number of municipalities across the U.S. have opted to train local police officers in immigration enforcement under the “287(g)” provisions of the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act. Time will tell whether these decisions to divert law enforcement resources away from serious crimes will prove worthwhile … or simply turn out to be political grandstanding to appease the xenophobic fringe. In Los Angeles, at least, every police chief for the last 29 years has not let political hysteria override common sense law enforcement.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez