CPCA balks at enforcing immigration lawsBy MARIO RENTERIA

April 14, 2002|Staff Writer

The California Police Chiefs Association has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft expressing disapproval of a proposed legal opinion that would give state and local police agencies the power to enforce federal immigration laws.

The president of the CPCA, Bob McDonell, said in the letter that the association recently received information that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering issuing the updated legal opinion.

Earlier this week, DOJ spokesman Dan Nelson stated, "In 1996 the DOJ issued a legal opinion preventing state and local law enforcement officials from making arrests for civil violations of the immigration law.

"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, many state and local law enforcement agencies have asked the DOJ to review this opinion to enforce immigration laws.


"With more than 7 million illegal aliens in the United States and only 2,000 Immigration and Naturalization Service agents to handle interior enforcement, the DOJ is exploring many options to enforce immigration laws," stated Nelson

McDonell is the chief of police in Newport Beach.

In the letter to Ashcroft from McDonell, he stated, "It is the strong opinion of the CPCA leadership that in order for local and state law enforcement organizations to continue to be effective partners with their communities, it is imperative that they not be placed in the role of detaining and arresting individuals based solely on a change in their immigration status.

"Most agencies in California already routinely refer illegal immigrants who have committed other criminal violations to INS and will continue to do so.

"We also stand ready to assist you in any way possible to address terrorism and would strongly support any changes in the law that would allow us to arrest and detain illegal immigrants or aliens pursuant to a warrant or other legal hold, who may have entered the U.S. legally, but who have violated their alien status, where information exists that they are supporting or involved in terrorist activities," said McDonell.

He stated many state and local police departments have developed and implemented policies that have kept them from directly becoming involved in routine immigration enforcement issues.

Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter said the biggest problem his department would face in complying with such a directive would be manpower.

"We just don't have the resources. We're busy enough already. The only way it would be possible is to have the federal government supply more money to hire more personnel," said Carter.

Carter had one more concern.

"There's enough distrust already in the community and this might cause even more distrust. The relationship (with the community) we try to develop would be hindered," he said.

Calipatria Police Chief Reggie Gomez feels similarly.

"It (the letter from McDonell to Ashcroft) pretty much exemplifies the feelings among the CPCA among California," said Gomez.

"It's not as if we're against assisting federal law enforcement, but it would task small agencies like us," he said.

"As a result we will be having undocumented aliens being victimized over and over again," because of their fear of being deported if they report crimes, said Gomez.

Westmorland Police Chief Fred Beltran said he did not wish to comment on the issue.

The Brawley, El Centro and Calexico police chiefs were not available for comment.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

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