It would Allow Local Police to Enforce
Federal Immigration Laws
by Deborah Kong, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Daniel Rosas Romero waits among the knots of men
line the sidewalks of a bustling street, hoping each day for painting,
moving, gardening or construction jobs.
The day laborers - many of whom slipped into the United States
undocumented - have established an uneasy relationship with local police,
who don't ask whether they are in the country legally.
Romero fears that delicate balance could tip under a new proposal being
considered by the Justice Department, which would allow local and state
police to enforce immigration laws.
The Justice Department has not provided details about the idea floated
a legal opinion written by its attorneys. The department says only that
"continues to explore all options to enforce immigration laws," said
spokesman Dan Nelson.
As security concerns and immigration policy intersect after the Sept.
terrorist attacks, some states are considering similar initiatives.
Supporters note INS agents are not usually patrolling the streets. But
states' officers are - and could limit the potential for terrorism by
illegal immigrants, they say.
The proposals are, however, raising questions and spreading fear
throughout immigrant communities, where many worry they could be
"It would cause us as immigrants, no matter where we are, to be
frightened," said Romero, who came to the United States in search of work
pay for his teen-age son and daughter's schooling in Mexico.
"We're not a problem. We can be a solution for this country" by doing
work others are not willing to do, he said. Critics also believe the
proposals could lead to racial profiling and discourage immigrants from
reporting crimes to the police.
Supporters say the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with 2,000
agents, lacks the staff to track suspected terrorists, much less an
estimated 8 million illegal immigrants scattered throughout the country.
Enlisting state and local authorities would create "a seamless web of
protection against future threats," said Dan Stein, executive director of
the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
And Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of
Police, notes that "by definition, if you are an illegal alien, you're not
supposed to be here."
In Florida, the state is hoping to reach a first-of-its-kind agreement
with the Justice Department to give 35 law enforcement officers the
authority to arrest illegal immigrants deemed threats to national security,
said Jennifer McCord, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law
South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon wants to pursue a similar
agreement, under which the state's law enforcement officers would be
deputized as INS agents.
But workers like Mathieu Beaucicot, who is in the United States on
temporary visa, feel police will wind up pursuing them.
"People working in fields picking this country's oranges and tomatoes
aren't terrorists, and yet they're the ones who would suffer the
consequences for this change in policy," said Beaucicot, who fled Haiti
after a political coup and works in the tomato fields of southwest
In Colorado, state legislators were considering a bill that would have
authorized officers to enforce criminal violations of federal immigration
laws. The bill was postponed indefinitely, but the idea has made many
immigrants feel more vulnerable, said Jorge Rubalcaba, a day laborer in
Two months ago, he called the police when he heard a neighbor hitting
wife. If that happened, under the new proposal, "I think I would not tell
them," he said.
"Everybody's worried and has doubts," said Rubalcaba, who moved to the
United States from Mexico six years ago. "You can't even go out and have
fun. You aren't free to go shopping, you can't go to a park. The normal
things of life you can't do."
Police are split on the issue. Some say officers could assist an
overwhelmed INS. Others believe doing so could jeopardize relationships
immigrant communities, and contend it's not their role to take on
Some cities, including San Francisco and Chicago, already have policies
that generally prevent city officials from asking about people's immigration
status. Officials said they haven't concluded how the Justice Department's
proposal would affect such policies.
On the San Francisco sidewalk, Andres Barela and other laborers scan
passing car, hoping its occupants will stop and hire them.
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"Terrorists are not going to be here in the streets," said Barela, who
sends his earnings to his grandmother and uncles in Honduras. "We are just
honest persons. We want to work, make money and have families."