Some Police Skeptical of Bill to Give them Immigration Enforcement Power


DENVER (Associated Press) -- A Colorado lawmaker wants to give local and state police the power to enforce immigration laws to help federal authorities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but some police chiefs have reservations.

"This is a specific attempt to do our part as a state in helping the (Immigration and Naturalization Service) deal with issues that have come up since 9/11," said Rep. Don Lee, R-Littleton, the bill's sponsor.

The House is scheduled to debate the bill this week.

Immigration law enforcement has come under increased scrutiny since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Lee and others who support his proposal say the INS does not have the staff to detain the estimated 8 million immigrants now in the United States illegally.

Some Colorado police chiefs said their departments do not have the resources or training to enforce immigration laws.

"We have enough on our plates right now. It's not as if we're out looking for extra things to do," Glenwood Springs Chief Terry Wilson said.

Luis Velez, acting chief in Colorado Springs, said immigration law enforcement requires different procedures and training than criminal law.

"Police officers are trained from Day 1 that to make an arrest they must have a legal standard. That legal standard is probable cause," he said.

"The problem is, you'll have police who are trained to deal with criminals instead of dealing with people who are in effect status offenders," he said.

Phoenix immigration lawyer Roxanna Bacon concurred. "Immigration law is very, very complicated. No local policeman has training at all in civil immigration law," she said.

Denver chief Gerry Whitman said adding immigration law to officers' duties could make it hard to win the trust of residents in some neighborhoods.

"Communication is big in inner-city neighborhoods and the underpinning of that is trust," Whitman said.

"If a victim thinks they're going to be a suspect (in an immigration violation), they're not going to call us, and that's just going to separate us even further," he said.

Lee the bill would not require police to enforce immigration law but give them the authority to do so.

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