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Talking Points:



April 2002


Immigration enforcement by local police will not make us safer from terrorism. Eroding the rapport between communities and police will, in fact, make us less safe.  Police need the cooperation of the communities they serve and protect to collect information about suspicious behavior so they can prevent terrorism and other crime.


·         Community-based policing is essential to effective local law enforcement. Local police rely on the people in their community to provide the information they need to fight crime and prevent terrorism. Immigrants who live in tightly-knit communities often have information about the people around them that police want.


·         Immigration enforcement by local police undermines community-policing efforts. A local police department that begins to enforce immigration laws will lose the trust of the community it serves and protects. In communities where people are afraid to talk to local police, more crimes go unreported, fewer witnesses come forth, and people are less likely to report suspicious activity. Many immigrants come from countries where people are afraid of the police, and police here have spent years building trust that will be destroyed overnight. The loss of this trust makes us all less safe.


·         Even legal immigrants and U.S. citizens will be reluctant to talk to police. Because immigration law is complicated and always changing, many legal immigrants still worry that they could be deported for reasons they may not have known about. Many immigrants live in families of mixed status and would be afraid extra scrutiny may have unforseen harm for a family member. There have been reports of even U.S. citizens who were “deported” because they were caught up in sloppy enforcement. Many successful community-based policing efforts have included express statements from police that they were not investigating individuals’ immigration status.


·         Even the mention that DOJ is considering the use of local cops to check immigration status could be exploited by criminals and terrorists. The bad guys seek to divide communities with fear and distrust so they may act in secret, and they will play up the situation to keep people from working together. Ignorance and misinformation about the use of local police for immigration enforcement will take a toll, even in communities that declare they will not use this authority.


The Constitutionality of local police enforcing immigration law is in question. Now is not the time to erode our fundamental principles, certainly not through public policies that work against their very intent.


Local police departments need to spend their limited resources on solving crimes and preventing terrorism. The INS needs to focus its efforts on handling the job it has now and on creating smart enforcement policies that actually work.


  • Local cops will be distracted from their primary mission when they are asked to perform new duties for which they have no training, compromising public safety and undermining effective immigration enforcement. Let them spend their time on what they are trained to do without additional mandates that are confusing as well as conflicting. 


  • Immigration laws are extremely complex, and INS agents follow different procedures for arresting immigrants than for arresting criminal offenders. Enforcing these laws legally and sensibly requires intensive and expensive of training, but DOJ proposes to enlist local cops without any at all. Without training, local cops have no hope of adding to effective immigration enforcement and will undermine any reasoned efforts that do exist. Requiring training will drain time and resources local cops could better spend on solving crimes and preventing terrorism. The Immigration Agent basic training is an intensive and specialized 17-week residential course, and agents in the field complete additional on-the-job training. Local communities can spare neither the money for training nor the limited time of their police officers.


  • The INS itself has a history of inefficiency and abuse and will shortly undergo a fundamental reorganization. How can this agency lead local cops in an effort to enforce law and procedure they themselves can’t handle?  The added burden of overseeing local law enforcement will only increase the chaos and exacerbate INS’s already dysfunctional performance. Let the INS set the standard for itself before it sets the standard for others.


Enforcement of immigration laws by local police has a bad track record.


·         Police forces that understand they need the cooperation of all community members have wisely declined to enforce immigration laws.  Those that don’t have a bad track record.  Citizens are not required to carry proof of citizenship, and determining if an immigrant is legal can be a complicated process.  Too often local police who try to enforce immigration laws base their suspicions on race, ethnicity, or language.  When they do this, they violate the civil rights of citizens and legal residents, and they expose themselves to expensive legal action.


·         Many local leaders have expressly condemned turning local cops into INS agents, among them prominent mayors such as Rudy Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg of New York, Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, and Richard Daly of Chicago.  These leaders understand the special dynamics between the people in their community and police better than the Attorney General ever could. With one action, DOJ would change these relationships for the worse, even if local leaders do not accept this plan.