Coalition Statement Opposing State and Local Enforcement of Immigration Laws

Statement Opposing State and Local Enforcement of Immigration Laws 

Monday, April 15, 2002 

We, the undersigned organizations, are astonished and dismayed by news from the Justice Department that Attorney General John Ashcroft is prepared to release a legal opinion establishing the principle that states and localities posses the ""inherent authority"" to enforce immigration laws, effectively clearing the way for state and local law enforcement officials to detain persons based on suspected immigration law violations. 

Such a move would reverse the long-standing policy of separation of police and immigration powers, and thus would put the lives and property of millions of immigrants living in the state of Florida, and throughout the country as a whole, in very real danger. At the same time, this ill-conceived policy reversal will almost certainly increase racial profiling of both immigrants and non-immigrants at the hands of law enforcement authorities. 

For many years, the policy of this country has been to leave the enforcement of immigration law to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for several excellent reasons. First, effective policing demands the establishment of trust between police officers and the community they serve, trust that inspires confidence in victims to come forward and report crimes and allows investigations to proceed efficiently. This is especially true in immigrant communities, where statistics indicate that immigrants suffer a disproportionately high rate of violent crime, yet many immigrants are wary of approaching law enforcement officials, due to both negative experiences with authorities in their home countries and, in the case of undocumented immigrants, fear of deportation. If, however, this policy initiative goes forward -- and local law enforcement officers become, for all intents and purposes, INS agents in the minds of the immigrant community -- then any trust that currently exists will be shattered and violent crime against immigrants, from muggings to modern-day slavery, will almost certainly rise. The key to providing adequate police protection to immigrant communities is to build trust in the authorities, not to build new walls between the community and the police. 

Second, this country's immigration laws are extremely complicated, requiring years of training to understand and to enforce legally. They involve, by definition, questions of nationality and ethnic background, leaving abundant room for racial profiling and other forms of discrimination by local police not versed in the myriad types of visas and visa-extension applications issued by the INS. Indeed, in Chandler, Arizona, when local police stopped and questioned dozens of individuals in Latino neighborhoods in 1997, victims of the operation -- including citizens and permanent residents detained only on the basis of their appearance -- brought lawsuits that cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle. Local law enforcement officials are not prepared, nor is it realistically feasible that they be prepared, to enforce immigration law. 

Third, this decision would greatly expand the enforcement role of state and local police, generating an impossible new demand on law enforcement budgets, courts, and jail systems already stretched to the limit. Devoting more time to immigration matters would only divert resources away from traditional law enforcement activities and most likely undermine police effectiveness and overall security in local communities. 

Indeed, the law enforcement community itself is not united behind the Justice Department's initiative, as officials from New York to San Diego have voiced concerns with the new policy. In San Antonio, Texas, law enforcement officials have been quite vocal in their reluctance to enforce immigration laws. Police Chief Albert Ortiz, speaking in the San Antonio Express News, said in a Friday, April 5th, story on the initiative, ""One of the beauties of living in San Antonio is we have a lot of diversity and we seem to pull together. If that (initiative) happens, we'd really have to think very hard about where it would be on our priority list, and if it would even be a priority."" Sheriff Ralph Lopez, also of San Antonio, was even more frank, asking, ""What are we saying? 'Hey you've got an accent. Let me see your passport.' It damn near leads us to racial profiling."" These Texas officers are joined by the mayors of several major cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, who in the past have flatly rejected the notion of turning local police into INS agents. 

In light of these very serious concerns, we strongly urge Attorney General Ashcroft to reconsider his position and leave the enforcement of immigration laws to immigration officials. This radical and unnecessary proposed departure from well-established law enforcement policy would have catastrophic consequences for millions of people across the country -- immigrants and non-immigrants alike. The Attorney General's initiative is especially disturbing as it comes on the heels of several other recent decisions and policy changes that have severely diminished immigrants' civil rights, including last week's Supreme Court decision in the Hoffman Plastics case, effectively limiting the rights of millions of undocumented workers to organize and join labor unions. 

While many of the recent changes have been made in the name of security, the sense within immigrant communities is that many of these new initiatives are unnecessarily harsh and have crossed the line from security into scapegoating the immigrant community as a whole for the events of September 11th. If we continue in this direction, we as a nation may find ourselves well down a dangerous path toward the creation of a new caste system in 21st-century America, with law-abiding immigrants treated as little more than beasts of burden, doing this country's hardest, worst-paid labor but stripped of the basic civil and labor rights enjoyed by all other Americans. 

The Attorney General's initiative to convert local police into INS agents wouldn't strengthen our fight against terrorists, it would diminish it; it wouldn't strengthen our country as a whole, it would divide it. We write today as citizens and immigrants who care deeply about our society and this country's ideals. We come from all different walks of life -- business, labor, political, and religious sectors; rich, middle-class, and poor; black, white, indigenous, and Latino. By coming together in opposition to the Attorney General's opinion, we are coming to the defense of the America we know and love, the America where the Statue of Liberty still stands, the land where freedom and opportunity are still equal for all of its people, regardless of the language we speak, the country of our ancestors, or the color of our skin. 

List of those signing-on to statement:

* SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1199, Florida
* Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Immokalee, FL
* State Representative Phillip Brutus, Miami, FL
* LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), National, Washington, DC
* ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), National, Washington, DC
* CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.), Washington, DC
* LCLAA (Labor Council for Latin American Advancement), National, Washington, DC
* NELP (National Employment Law Project), NYC, NY
* NILC (National Immigration Law Center), Washington, DC
* NIF (National Immigration Forum), Washington, DC
* ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Florida, FL
* Alex Chavez, Regional Director, USHCC (Unites States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)
* UNITE for Dignity, South Florida, FL
* South Florida Jobs with Justice, FL
* FIAC (Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), FL
* Human Services Coalition of Dade County, FL
* Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, San Francisco, CA
* Free the Slaves, Washington, DC
* International Institute of San Francisco, CA
* CASA of Maryland, Inc., MD
* Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, MD
* UNITE, Florida District (Arcine Rasberry, Director), FL
* UNITE, Florida Retiree Action Program (Hani Lipp, Coordinator), FL
* Florida Immigrant Coalition, FL
* Colorado Progressive Coalition, CO
* Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., Apopka, FL
* Resource Center of the Americas, Miam, FL
* Hispanic Services Council, Tampa, FL
* Haitian Educators of Dade, FL
* CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles), CA
* Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), FL
* RCMA (Redlands Christian Migrant Association), FL
* ARCA (Asylees Resettlement Consulting Alliance), Miami, FL
* Vickers House, West Palm Beach, FL
* CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Washington, DC
* Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, San Francisco, CA
* Honduran Unity, Miami Springs, FL
* Haiti Support Network, Miami, FL
* CASA (Colombian American Service Association), Miami, FL
* American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Washington, DC
* Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, FL
* Tampa Bay Action Group, FL
* Phoenix Fund for Workers and Communities, NYC (Ann Bastian), NY
* Amigos Center, Ft. Myers/Bonita Springs, FL
* National Farm Workers Ministry, FL
* Student/Farmworker Alliance, FL
* Garment Workers' Center, Los Angeles, CA
* Pressurepoint, Seattle, WA
* Students for a Free Tibet International, NYC, NY
* US Tibet Committee, NYC, NY
* Milarapa Fund, NYC/Japan
* Miami Coalition for the Homeless, Miami, FL
* Organization of Maya People in Exile, West Palm Beach, FL
* UNITE, Georgia (Manager, Sandra Stimson)
* Haitian Neighborhood Center, Miami, FL
* COFFO (Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations), FL
* Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), North Carolina
* Women's Alliance of Miami-Dade & Broward, Inc., FL
* Haitian Lawyers Association, Miami, FL
* Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Brooklyn, NY
* North Miami Beach Civic Association, FL
* Unidad Civica Peruana (Peruvian Civic Unity), FL

* Humphrey and Whidden Insurance Agency, Ft. Myers, FL
* Maya King Express
* Circulo Maya Travel
* DDL Executirve Transport Service, Inc.
* Maya King Holdings, Inc.

* Aidif & Friedberg, P.A., Orlando, FL
* Ellen Gorman and Star Havasreti, Law Offices of Ellen Gorman, P.A., St. Petersburg, FL
* Richard Maney, Maney & Gordon, P.A., Tampa, FL
* M. Joy Gonzales-Hoyes, Central Florida Chapt., AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Assoc.)
* P. Michael Villalobos, Attorney at Law, Ft. Myers, FL
* Adijatu Abiose, Esq.
* Steve Hitov, Esq., Washington, DC

* Joan Flocks, University of Florida
* Ronald Cox, Florida International University
* Fran Ansley, University of Tenn. College of Law, Knoxville, TN

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