Ashcroft Uses Local and State Police to Enforce Complex Immigration Laws; ACLU Warns Move Will Erode Immigrants' Willingness to Cooperate With Police

August 23, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice — through a regulation that goes into effect today – has gained the authority to deputize local and state police to enforce complex immigration laws, a move that the American Civil Liberties Union said is a sure-fire way to reduce immigrants’ willingness to cooperate with authorities in the fight against terrorism.

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

The regulation that goes into effect today was initially conceived in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act but was never put into effect. Attorney General John Ashcroft, however, has been all too willing to use immigration law as a pretext to target particular communities, the ACLU said.

Not surprisingly, even local and state police departments are wary about what federal deputizations will mean for their overstretched budgets. State police in Arizona and the local department in San Jose, California, have both made it clear that they will not participate in any immigration law enforcement.

Of ultimate concern to the ACLU and other groups is the broad language used in granting Ashcroft the authority to deputize local or state police for immigration duty. The provision grants the Attorney General authority only in an “immigration emergency” but does little to clarify exactly what such an emergency would entail. Under the current language, the Attorney General would have a free hand to use the new authority in an abusive, discriminatory and unconstitutional manner.

“In the atmosphere of heightened suspicion created by September 11, the Administration should be fostering ties to the immigrant community in America, not erecting walls of mistrust by threatening deportation every time a law-abiding non-citizen wants to report illegal activity,” Edgar added.

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