Keep police and immigration roles separate

Policies that promote police acting as immigration agents represent one more effort on the part of politicians who want to foster racism and division in our communities.

The Republican Attorney General, Van Hollen, published a guide for police in which he encourages police officers who are interacting with foreign nationals, even in routine matters, to question them about their immigration status and report them to the Departament of Immigration (ICE).

He justifies this position saying it is to protect the civil rights of people so they can contact their consulate. But, as the role of immigration is principally the responsibility of the federal government, he himself, acknowledges that no person has the obligation to answer questions about their legal status nor does any police officer have the obligation to ask someone about their legal status.

Van Hollen also stated that he is investigating through Wisconsin’s Department of Justice how the state can enter into a 287G program with the Departamento of Homeland Security. The 287G program requires state and local police to assume an immigration role.

Legislation introduced by State Republicans, AB 569, denies the right of agencies or local governments to pass policies prohibiting public sector employees from questioning someone about their immigration status and reporting them to ICE; for example, the police, public sector doctors and teachers. The leadership of the Milwaukee police union, MPA, testified in support for AB569, justifying their position on a local case where a police officer was held accountable for interrogating and trying to arrest and deport a 14 year old boy who had been in a school fight; without the presence of an attorney nor his mother. Amazingly, this case is exactly why we need accountability of our local law enforcement and how uninformed the police is about immigration laws, due process rights, and racial profiling.

These politics are nothing more than a new version of HR4437 from Congressman Sensenbrenner who would have criminalized every undocumented person-including children-and any person who knowingly worked with them. These racist politics failed in 2006 in the streets and in the election booth.

The actual policy of the City of Milwaukee police clarifies when it is appropriate to inquire about someone’s immigration status (for example, being arrested for a felony) guarantying a balance betwen public safety and maintaining community trust with all residents.

Public safety is more protected if immigrants are not afraid to talk to the police as victims or witnesses to crimes in investigational. The community is already complaining about the lack of response time from the police because of staff shortages and at the same time the police is asking community residents to work with them to prevent crimes. How will they reach this goal if they don’t have the capacity nor the community support?

Police should not act as immigration because it will increase cases of racial profiling by the police against persons that look or sound foreign and lead to increased civil rights abuses.

In addition, it is a gross waste of public funds. Van Hollen’s proposal to enter into a 287G program is ridiculous considering that Wisconsin is $400 million dollars in debt and the Wisconsin Department of Justice has just lost federal monies and is facing a severe budget shortfall. Where will the money come from to pay for the training, salaries, and overtime for police to be trained to understand complex federal immigration laws? Federal money for these programs is very limited and it is the State that would pick up the tab.

Local efforts to “fix” our immigration laws are useless because what we need is one comprehensive federal immigration bill. Remember that the elections in 2008 are critical and we need to continue to educate ourselves about our rights and be ready to help and participate in mobilizations.