April 30, 2004

Local Police Enforcing Federal Civil Immigration Law:

A Clear and Present Danger to Public Safety

Washington – The Senate Immigration Subcommittee is holding hearings on controversial legislation that would compel state and local police to enforce federal civil immigration laws.

The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 2671) and its Senate companion, the Homeland Security Enhancement Act (S. 1906), have drawn the ire of police departments, law enforcement and national security experts, state and local governments, conservative policy groups, domestic violence prevention advocates, civil rights watchdogs, and others. These unusual allies oppose local enforcement of federal immigration laws principally because it undermines local law enforcement’s ability to fight crime and ensure public safety in their communities.

National security experts and state and local law enforcement agree that good intelligence and strong community relations are the keys to keeping our nation and our streets safe. If immigrant communities are alienated rather than embraced, local law enforcement loses important allies and relationships that can share information and tips on potential crimes.

“Making state and local police enforce federal immigration laws strikes a direct blow at the efforts of police to win the trust and confidence of the communities they serve,” said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum. “When immigrant communities hear local police are clamping down on civil immigration enforcement, victims of crime, victims of domestic violence, potential witnesses and informants will clam up. That will make the primary job of our local police much harder.”

Opposition to the legislation has been expressed by 37 sheriff’s offices, police chiefs, and police associations nationally and in at least 12 states, including Arizona, California, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, and Texas. Additionally, 356 national, state, and local organizations in 37 states have asked Congress to defeat this dangerous legislation. Countless other police and local governments have expressed opposition to the general concept of state and local enforcement of civil immigration laws.

The effort of some in Congress to foist immigration law enforcement on the states comes at a time when state and local budgets are already stretched to the breaking point. The Homeland Security Enhancement Act further threatens these budgets, by denying states and localities federal grants they currently receive if they don’t take on these additional duties. Kelley pointed to opposition to the legislation coming from the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, National Conference of State Legislatures, and the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition as evidence that state and local governments are not seeking additional federal mandates.

Additionally, organizations from The Heritage Foundation to Human Rights Watch, and scores of local groups that counsel victims of domestic violence, have been critical of this legislation.

Kelley made it clear that police are already able to call the Department of Homeland Security when they have a criminal in custody who may warrant immigration action. It is the extra burden of initiating civil immigration enforcement actions that would be counterproductive for local police forces.

“If the Congress feels more should be done to track, arrest, and deport immigrants who have committed crimes, they should be willing to pay for the trained, federal officers to do so,” Kelley said. “Putting the burden of enforcing civil immigration law on already overburdened, under-funded, and under-trained state and local police is a cop out.”

This information was provided by The National Immigration Forum. The Forum, established in 1982, is dedicated to embracing and upholding America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Immigration Forum advocates and builds public support for public polices that welcome immigrants and refugees and that are fair and supportive to newcomers in our country. For further information or to take action on this issue visit their web site at: http://www.immigrationforum.org/currentissues/clear.htm.

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