Local police shouldn’t be U.S. immigration agents

Via The Tennesean.com

State lawmakers should ask Congress why immigration isn’t a high priority

State lawmakers are considering legislation that
calls on Tennessee law enforcement officers to actively assist in
helping in the identification and deportation of illegal immigrants.

Judging
from the number of legislators who have signed on as sponsors of the
legislation, the idea of using local police and Tennessee Highway
Patrol officers on immigration cases is popular. But before state
lawmakers vote on this measure, they need to do some homework.

First, they need to talk to the police chiefs, THP
officers and the district attorneys in their districts. When they do,
they will find stiff opposition to the idea because of the impact it
could have on criminal investigations and community police efforts.

This
newspaper recently had such a conversation with Metro Police Chief
Ronal Serpas and Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, both of whom
talked about their efforts to build ties to immigrant communities.
Serpas specifically cited the recent breakthrough in a homicide
investigation, which he attributed in part to cooperation from
Nashville’s Hispanic community.

Cooperation from
the public is vital in all facets of police work. If Hispanics or
people of other ethnicities believe that every time they talk to the
police, the officers will ask for proof of their status, that trust
would be shattered. And what about the thousands of native-born
Tennesseans who may look like immigrants? Would police call upon them
to prove their citizenship? If so, the practice would invite racial
profiling.

Another conversation that state
lawmakers need to have is with the Tennessee congressional delegation.
They should ask members of Congress why the federal government hasn’t
accepted immigration as a high priority and approached it in a
comprehensive way.

Local police and THP officers
already alert immigration officials when they learn that someone in
custody is in this nation illegally. That level of cooperation makes
sense.

But Tennessee lawmakers can’t expect
local police to be effective in their jobs as peace-keepers and
crime-solvers if they also are required to be immigration agents.
Immigration control is a federal function. The federal government’s
failure to manage that job is no justification in foisting it off on
local police and THP. •

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