Police Chiefs Frustrated over Local Immigration Enforcement

Immigration enforcement by local police is having a chilling effect on how residents interact with them, warns a report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

“The last thing we need is for laws to undermine the trust that police departments have built up with the community,” said Jerry Murphy, PERF’s Director of Homeland Security and Development, during a conference call with reporters.

Police and Immigration: How Chiefs are Leading their Communities through the Challenges explores six case-studies conducted between December 2008 and September 2009 in New Haven, CT; Prince William County,VA; Montgomery County, MD; Phoenix, AZ; Mesa, AZ; and Minneapolis, MN.

It finds these local law enforcement agencies are struggling with a political atmosphere that limits the “discretion of police to deal with immigration enforcement in ways they consider best. Officers are concerned about the reluctance among immigrants to contact police to report crimes even if they are victims or witnesses.

“In many places, police chiefs and police departments have become the public face of the immigration debate,” Murphy added. “There are a significant number of police departments that have been pulled into the debate and ask the question ‘what is our designated role in enforcing immigration law?’”

While the report provides immigration reform recommendations to Congress, it also offers suggestions to local police where federal and state education, oversight, and outreach regarding enforcement fall short:

  • Officers should be prohibited from arresting or detaining persons for the sole purpose of investigating their immigration status.
  • Officers should monitor indicators of racial profiling, investigate violations, and sanctions offenders.
  • Local police agencies should become knowledgeable about programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities, and state or local initiatives to ensure that the programs meet the agency’s specified goals for participation.
  • Local police should develop comprehensive written policies and procedure regarding handling of undocumented immigrants.
  • Local police agencies should educate their communities about their role in immigration enforcement, especially the legal authorities and responsibilities of local police and federal law enforcement and engage immigrant communities in dialogue about department policies.

Back in August, Deportation Nation reported on a conference convened by the Consortium for Policy Leadership in Equality (CPLE), where police chiefs from 27 major cities expressed concerns about the extra burdens created by federal programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) as well as Arizona copycat bills pending in dozens of states.

A June 2010 by the CPLE pointed to the negative effects created when police officers doubled as immigrant agents. It found that 1 in 3 Salt Lake City, Utah, residents are unwilling to report drug-related crimes when law enforcement can detain someone based on their immigration status. Undocumented immigrants, as well as Latino and White citizens, were more likely to leave drug crimes unreported.

Meanwhile, at the July 2009 Summit on Immigration Enforcement of more than 100 police chiefs and other local stakeholders, participants expressed frustration with the lack of response from ICE to police concerns.

During Wednesday’s call, Chief Christopher Moore of the San Jose Police Department in California said it was “troubling” that crimes went unreported in his community because people were afraid of police, who now play a role in immigration enforcement.

“We’re looking to strengthen our relationship [with the community],” said Moore, who in his first big policy move last month as police chief, announced plans to broaden the definition of racial profiling and investigate more claims of biased behavior by officers.

Chief Victor Rodriguez of the McAllen Police Department in Texas, echoed Moore’s concerns. Earlier this month, Rodriguez was one of several police chiefs and sheriffs that met at the Texas Capitol to denounce proposals that would give local police more immigration enforcement responsibilities.

“It’s my position that if we continue to go down this path, we’ll make our communities more dangerous,” Rodriguez said.

We’d like to know your thoughts on the PERF’s findings. Click this link to mark up the report with your comments.