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Aliens Rule Restated : Citizenship Won’t Be Cause for Stop by Police, Burgreen Says

Times Staff Writer

In his first address to a community group since being installed as San Diego police chief, Bob Burgreen said Wednesday that officers have again been ordered to follow a 2-year-old department policy that forbids them to detain people suspected of being undocumented aliens and turn them over to federal immigration agents.

Burgreen, who was approved as chief by the City Council last week, told the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce that police will no longer stop people solely to inquire about their citizenship.

Also acknowledging the strained relations between the department and the Latino and black communities, Burgreen said: “We’re going to treat all people--all people--with dignity and respect.”

Anecdote About Aliens

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The chief began his brief remarks by telling the group that, while en route to the chamber’s office he saw what appeared to be three illegal aliens dash out of a bush, heading north. Then, noting Mexico’s economic crisis, Burgreen said:

“Were I a citizen of Mexico, what would I be doing? I would probably be coming out of the bushes, too.”

Burgreen used that anecdote to inform the gathering that officers are expected to follow the department’s policy on dealing with illegal aliens.

“We are not the Border Patrol. . . . We’re not going to be in the business of checking IDs . . . asking people where they are a citizen of,” said Burgreen. He added that San Diego police “are not responsible for enforcing immigration laws.”

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No Letup on Criminals Planned

However, the department’s alien policy will not stop police from stopping and questioning aliens who are suspected of being involved in criminal activity. “We are aware of the fact that some undocumented aliens come into this country to prey on people,” he said.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Burgreen said that Officer David Ramirez “made a mistake” and “violated the policy” when he and his partner, Officer Joycelyn McMillen, stopped seven aliens in Balboa Park on Aug. 17, questioned them and then called Border Patrol agents to arrest them. At that time, the aliens had not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing and the detentions stirred criticism of the department from some Latino activists.

Roberto Martinez, co-chairman of the Coalition for Law and Justice, a Latino rights organization, charged Wednesday that the policy of not informing the Border Patrol about apprehended aliens, enacted by former Chief Bill Kolender in August, 1986, is routinely ignored by patrol officers.

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No Change in Policy Seen

“We don’t have problems with the police detaining and then turning over to the Border Patrol people who commit a crime. . . . But our position is that we haven’t seen a change in the two years that the policy has been in effect and don’t have reason to believe that it’s going to change any time soon,” Martinez said.

“We feel that the rank and file don’t want to respect the policy,” he added. “We would have to see a much more dramatic drop in the number of detentions before we can say that police are abiding by the policy.”

Martinez said that cab drivers in San Ysidro frequently complain to his office about officers detaining people and turning them over to the Border Patrol.

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“The worst violations are happening in San Ysidro. . . . Our problem is that the police are still detaining people because they look foreign or are suspected of being undocumented,” Martinez said.

Burgreen noted that illegal entry into the United States is prosecuted as a misdemeanor in federal court. However, alien smuggling is prosecuted as a felony, and Burgreen said that the department has not yet agreed on a policy to deal with alien smugglers.

“We certainly don’t want to ignore felony violations. . . . We have no policy that addresses it at this time, but we’re looking at what we can do in this area,” Burgreen said.


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