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Our Opinion: Police should not be INS

April 16, 2002

The California Police Chiefs Association is taking a stand against a proposal by the U.S. Department of Justice that would have police departments enforce federal immigration laws as part of their daily efforts.

We agree with the CPCA that the efforts of police could be hampered if they became immigration officers.

That is not to suggest police should not do everything they can to prevent terrorism, which actually is the idea behind having police enforce immigration laws. But police can protect us without having to take on the role of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, Customs or other federal agencies.

We agree with those who say if immigrants are overcome with fear about deportation they will not come forward when they are victims of crime. That means they could become targets, even more so than they already are, if criminals know immigrants will not seek help from police.

There also is concern about manpower. In an area such as the Imperial Valley, there are barely enough police officers and deputies to meet the needs of the communities. If police had to add immigration enforcement to their duties other services would be affected. And in a time where community-oriented policing has proven effective, the idea of serving as immigration police would hurt that style of policing.

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Police can serve as partners in the war against terrorism. We are not against the Department of Justice and police agencies drafting some plan that would formalize their relationship in the effort to thwart terrorism.

We praise those in law enforcement for trying to develop new ways to protect us so that we do not have to live in fear that the events of Sept. 11 will be repeated. It cannot be easy trying to protect society from a threat that could come from anywhere at any time.

Still, the methods chosen to protect us have to make sense and we are not sure a proposal that would turn police agencies into arms of INS does.

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