ACLU Says Mayor Gordon’s Immigration Scheme Will Erode Immigrants' Willingness to Cooperate With Police

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
December 12, 2007 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – In a letter sent today to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona urged the mayor to abandon plans to use local police to enforce complex immigration laws, saying the proposal is a sure-fire way to reduce immigrants’ willingness to cooperate with authorities in the fight against crime.

“Enforcing immigration law is a full-time and highly technical matter and should not be the part-time obligation of our already overburdened local police,” said Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Immigrants are not going to be overly thrilled about cooperating with police if they fear arrest for minor immigration violations.”

On December 3, Mayor Phil Gordon announced a plan to reverse the long-standing tradition of leaving immigration-related criminal matters in the hands of the federal government. He said he no longer supported Operations Order 1.4, which prevents police in most cases from asking about a person’s immigration status. Gordon’s move comes at the heels of mounting pressure from advocates for stricter immigration laws, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been all too willing to use immigration law as a pretext to target Latino communities, the ACLU said.

In its two page letter to Mayor Gordon, the ACLU points out that proposed policy change is unnecessary because Phoenix police officers can and do enforce criminal laws against anyone who violates them, regardless of immigration status.

“We expect the Phoenix Police Department to cooperate with federal authorities in apprehending anyone, including non-citizens, who are suspected of criminal activity,” added Pochoda. “However, officers should not be in the business of detaining or arresting law-abiding aliens based solely on their immigration status or on perceived violations of civil immigration laws.”

Not surprisingly, local police departments across the state are wary about what local enforcement of immigration laws will mean for their overstretched budgets. Police in Mesa, Pima County, Santa Cruz County, and Tucson Police Departments have made it clear that they will not participate in any immigration law enforcement, arguing it would add an unnecessary financial burden on their already overburdened budgets. In addition, most police departments in other big cities, including New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco bar officers in most cases from asking a person’s immigration status or detaining him or her for the sole purpose of determining it.

“This opens the door to possible abuse and potential civil rights violations, because it forgets an important fact: you can’t tell by looks alone who is a citizen and who is not,” said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze. “We know from experience that this will lead to the detention or questioning of many U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, resulting in class-action suits and findings of liability against the City of Phoenix.”

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