ACLU Urges Congress to Oppose Dangerous Law Enforcement Reform, Calls Immigration Powers Measure a Threat to Public Safety

October 1, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As a key House subcommittee convened a hearing today to examine legislation that would blur the lines between federal and local law enforcement in civil immigration matters, the American Civil Liberties Union called the measure foolhardy and warned that it would have dangerous consequences for public safety.

“Immigration laws need to be enforced – but by the right people,” said Timothy H. Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “When a victim or witness of a crime is afraid to go to their local police for fear of being deported, that creates serious implications for the safety of the community. Civil immigration enforcement is not, and should not be the responsibility of local law enforcement.”

The House Judiciary Subcommittee Immigration, Border Security and Claims today held a hearing on H.R. 2671, the “Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal” Act of 2003 (CLEAR Act). Significantly, in addition to opposition by the ACLU and other civil right and immigration groups, a wide array of law enforcement officers and officials have come out against the use of local law enforcement in federal immigration matters. Local police argued that such involvement would undermine the public trust and threaten public safety.

State and local police are currently authorized to enforce criminal laws, regardless of the immigration status of the perpetrator. They are also authorized to notify federal immigration agents about foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who have violated their immigration status. The CLEAR Act would force local police to investigate and enforce federal civil immigration laws -for example, overstaying the valid period of a visa – on pain of losing some federal funds. Making local police de facto immigration agents, the ACLU said, would further alienate communities already reluctant to go to local law enforcement.

The CLEAR Act, the ACLU said, would also increase civil rights abuses and wrongful arrests. Some officers would inevitably stop and question people based on their ethnic background or their accent, leading to violations of the rights of U.S. citizens and legal residents whose only offense is “looking foreign.” Anticipating this, the bill purports to grant immunity from civil lawsuits for officers who enforce immigration laws.

Further, state and local police lack the training to properly enforce federal civil immigration laws. Federal immigration agents undergo an intensive 17-week training in immigration law before they begin duty. Additionally, the extreme complexity of the immigration code would make training America’s 600,000 local and state police officers in its fair application exceedingly expensive and logistically burdensome. At a time when local police are facing cutbacks, this new responsibility would only add to state budget crises.

“The only objective the CLEAR Act will accomplish is clearing the way for increased police abuse and decreased public safety,” Edgar said.

The ACLU’s statement on the CLEAR Act can be found at:

A coalition letter urging opposition to the CLEAR Act can be found at:

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