Status check

Should local cops be at the center of enforcing immigration laws? That question is once again surfacing in Minnesota.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, brought it up during a debate on the tax bill when he tried to amend it to prevent cities, such as St. Paul and Minneapolis, from receiving local government aid as long as long as they refuse to have police officers ask about immigration status. The amendment was part of Gov. Pawlenty’s plan, announced in January, to crack down on illegal immigration. Sen. Norm Coleman has said he’ll push legislation in Congress to accomplish the same thing.

In 2006, the then-Republican-controlled Minnesota House approved a bill stripping the sanctuary city ordinances, 94-to-37, but it died in the DFL-control Senate. Owing to the changing politics in the House, Monday night’s vote on Seifert’s amendment was closer, with it failing 67-to-66.

So what’s the problem here? Some officials, including Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, say if the local cops become immigration agents, then immigrants who are here illegally will be less likely to report crime or work with police.

Ground zero for the debate at the moment is in Roswell, New Mexico where a high school student is being sent back to Mexico after being ticketed for blocking a fire lane.

According to the Los Angeles. Times, the schools suffered a sudden drop in attendance as students whose parents were in the country illegally kept them home. But a 1982 Supreme Court ruling said illegal immigrants have a right to attend school, and educators could not ask students if they were here illegally. The traffic cop who was hired by the district, has been sent back to the city.

California was well on its way to testing the ruling, when voters approved Proposition 187, which denied public services — social services, health care, and public education primarily — to illegal immigrants. One judge issued a temporary restraining order. Then incoming Gov. Gray Davis killed the measure by dropping the appeals process.

In Virginia, a local sheriff signed onto a program that allows his deputies to check immigration status and detain suspects on immigration charges, mostly because, he said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. officials were too slow to respond.

Not all police officials buy the idea, however. In Milwaukee, for example, police last year adopted a policy more in line with that of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

  • brian

    I think the whole immigration debate boils down to being practical.

    Fine, maybe ideally we could kick all illegal immigrants out of this country and everyone coming into this country will have to do it legally. But that is never going to happen! There are too many of them here already, our border is too large, and there are too many incentives for them to come and stay.

    I am much more concerned that someone here illegally will call the police if someone is breaking into my house (or if they just ran into a school bus) than in getting a slightly higher percentage of them out of the country.

    Maybe I’m totally naive… but why don’t we just let more people into the country legally? Wouldn’t that help to alleviate the problem?

  • bsimon

    “Should local cops be at the center of enforcing immigration laws?”

    Bob, nice concise summary.

    Seems to me like each jurisdiction should prioritize its law enforcement needs/policies. The state has State Troopers. It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Rep Seifert to introduce a bill dictating that troopers enforce immigration law. It does seem like an overreach for the state to dictate that city cops should enforce immigration law. Shouldn’t that be up to city leaders? Or is the state going to get involved in managing other city workers’ responsibilities & priorities as well?

  • brian

    I just had another thought:

    Who would the police ask about their immigration status? Would they have to ask everyone? Would they ask me (being a white guy)?

  • GregS

    So now cities get to decide which federal laws they will comply with, what next, do they pick and chose which state laws to comply with?

    Why should Mora enforce the smoking ban?

  • Brad G

    “Why should Mora enforce the smoking ban?”

    ?

    I guess I would leave that up to the Morans to decide.

    My pigment gets fairly darkened in the summer. I have dark hair. Will I be questioned on my legality of citizenship at the grocery store? I live in a heavily populated hispanic community. Perhaps we should have the cashiers at the grocery store ask for papers before ringing up the customers.

  • Bob Collins

    Actually, as I understand it, yes, police regularly decide which laws to comply with — state and otherwise. I heard a story the other day of a police department that wouldn’t pick up a robbery suspect because there was no room to put him in “the system.”

    and, of course, people who drive 56 on I-94 are not pulled over and ticketed, even though they’re breaking the law.

    Presumably there are “other” considerations involved.

  • GregS

    There is a difference between operational discretion and scofflaw policy.

    The difference is between a cop ignoring a guy lighting up a cigarette in bar, and a city mandating police and inspectors not enforce the smoking ban.

  • Bob Collins

    Is there a “probable cause” component here? For example, African Americans generally don’t put those little Christmas tree air fresheners on their rear view mirrors as white people do because there are cases where cops just stop the car for the “infraction,” but the real intent is to toss the car and try to find something to get the driver on.

    Is there a concern that the same would be true for people who “look” like immigrants. Stop ‘em for doing 56, but use that only as an invitation to see if they’re legally here?

  • c

    case in point Bob:

    I was ticketed at 10 pm on the corner of Case and Payne for a “Rosary Obstruction Of View” (I had a Rosary hanging from my rear view mirror). This was on my birthday no less after dropping off a friend, who lived at the Crosier Monestary on Westminister, after celebrating at Chuck E Cheese in the middle of summer (I had dark hair and I tan well). My son was in the back seat of the car.

    On lookers of the crime scene consisted of the usual corner drug dealers and other solliciting types while I was being stopped for my Rosary.

    Lets keep the Law Enforcers focused on real crime

  • GregS

    Is there a concern that the same would be true for people who “look” like immigrants. Stop ‘em for doing 56, but use that only as an invitation to see if they’re legally here?

    There is a world of difference between aggressively pursuing illegal immigrants and a city policy of not enforcing immigration law.

    Unless one is talking about quantum physics leaving one end of a polar extreme does not mandate that you appear at the other end.

    Lets keep the Law Enforcers focused on real crime

    Over the years, police have found that enforcing nuisance laws results in a dramatic reduction of serious offenses.

    It was extraordinary luck, Kelling said, that he was able to use the New York City subway system as a laboratory for Broken Windows. Another aspect of the theory to emerge from that — the one that is perhaps the most easily grasped at this point in its evolution — is that those who think the rules do not apply to them in big ways, think they do not apply in small ways, either. It is often how they are caught.

    “While not all fare-beaters were criminals, a lot of criminals were fare-beaters,” Kelling said of the subway experiment. “So it turns out that enforcement of laws against minor offenses puts [police] in contact with high-rate offenders. That was a wrinkle I don’t think we anticipated.”

    That outcome has been replicated in other studies, as well, Kelling points out. Research done in England has found that those who park illegally in handicapped parking places have bad driving records. The first day that police in Newark, N.J., began enforcing laws regarding bicycle riding, he said, they found two or three guns.

  • bsimon

    “There is a world of difference between aggressively pursuing illegal immigrants and a city policy of not enforcing immigration law. ”

    Indeed there is. The question is who should be making that decision – the people responsible for running the city, or politicians elsewhere? Seems like the person who wants to dictate what the cops are focusing on should be the same person that pays the cops. If the state legislature wants immigration law enforced, either put the State Patrol on the issue, or send money to the cities & earmark it for immigration enforcement.

  • brian

    I think there is a difference between the offenses mentioned in the study and coming into this country illegally. Someone who jumps a turnstile or parks in a handicapped zone definitely thinks the rules don’t apply to them. It wouldn’t be an undue hardship for that person to pay the fare or park further away. I think that most people that come to this country illegally just want a better life for their family (or themselves). It can be an undue hardship to stay in their own county. They know the rules apply to them, but they break them because they have to. But again maybe I’m being naïve.

    This discussion has changed my view of this issue much more than I thought it would. I still think not having local police enforce immigration law is the moral and intelligent path, but I’m almost to the point of thinking that it isn’t local government’s decision to make. I guess it just shows how much we need immigration reform on the federal level.

  • Bob Collins

    Hmmm, I’m starting to see the beginnings of another post: What would you stop at to improve the life of your family?

  • GregS

    Indeed there is. The question is who should be making that decision – the people responsible for running the city, or politicians elsewhere? Seems like the person who wants to dictate what the cops are focusing on should be the same person that pays the cops. If the state legislature wants immigration law enforced, either put the State Patrol on the issue, or send money to the cities & earmark it for immigration enforcement.

    Do we really want to walk that road?

    Should cities refuse to enforce the smoking ban? How about all those pesty laws regarding things like wearing seat belts or that silly alcohol blood level thing?

    What about all those nasty racial and pollution laws the feds impose?

    Are you sure you want to open that can of worms?

  • GregS

    I think that most people that come to this country illegally just want a better life for their family (or themselves). It can be an undue hardship to stay in their own county.

    It appears that you misused the word “undue”. A Mexican life is “due” to the obvious fact of being born in Mexico. An American life is “due” to Americans. Our lifestyle is the result and reward of our culture.

    You seem to feel that jumping the border is acceptable because of the poverty of the people involved. What you neglect to consider is the effect on Mexico of a third of their population heading north.

    It is common to believe the people crossing the border are the poor, the uneducated, the desperate, though this true for some, it is not true for all too many Mexicans with college educations and advanced skills who can make more money doing menial jobs in the U.S. than teaching school, doing social work, or pushing papers in an office.

    Have you any idea what this does to small towns south of the border?

  • brian

    I don’t think I misused “undue.” We just have different opinions of how we become due something. I don’t think anyone is due hardship by virtue of their birthplace. I don’t feel I deserve a better life than others just because I happened to have won the luck of the draw and was born in the US. I’m not saying that I haven’t worked to have the life I do, I just haven’t had to work as hard as people from poorer countries.

    I think that it is Mexico’s job to retain its civil servants. If educated Mexicans can make more in the US, then Mexico needs to do something about that. I guess that will ultimately have to happen in order for anything to change. A leveling of the Mexican and US economies will be the only way to stop the flow.

    I think local police would have to ask everyone about their immigration status to fairly enforce immigration law. Would this lead to all of us having to carry around our “papers” and being ready to show them at any time?