In Detaining Suspected Illegal Aliens : Ezell Assails Police Over Lack of Help

Times Staff Writer

Harold Ezell, the top federal immigration official in California, lashed out Saturday at officials in San Diego and other cities where police forces have refused to cooperate with efforts to detain suspected illegal aliens.

Ezell called the San Diego policy “outrageous” and called on city officials to institute joint patrols of U.S. Border Patrol and local police units in areas such as Balboa Park, where authorities say illegal aliens have committed crimes.

“I think the city of San Diego needs to stand up and say, ‘Let’s cooperate. Let’s not ignore the problem,’ ” Ezell, western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, told television station KNSD (Channel 39) in an interview to be aired on San Diego Headliners this morning.

Later, in a telephone interview from his home in Orange County, Ezell was just as emphatic, suggesting that San Diego officials were not doing their part to combat illegal immigration.


“I think it’s time that San Diego recognizes that it’s a border town,” Ezell said. “I don’t think we can have part of law enforcement stick its head in the sand and say, ‘It’s not our problem.’ ”

Despite the comments by Ezell, who is known for his provocative stands, San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen said he has no intention of changing the current police policy, which forbids officers from holding suspected illegal aliens for federal officials solely because of their immigration status.

The current policy was enunciated in 1986 by then-Chief Bill Kolender, but it has been strongly reaffirmed by Burgreen.

“I understand Commissioner Ezell’s frustration,” Burgreen said last night from home, “but we have our hands full trying to keep crime down, without being a supplement to the Border Patrol.”


However, Burgreen stressed that police do cooperate with the INS. He noted, for instance, that he recently requested that the Border Patrol make some rounds in Balboa Park.

But Burgreen said there is some question about the legality of a policy in which local police officers detain suspected illegal aliens for purposes of turning them over to the Border Patrol, an enforcement arm of the INS. Nonetheless, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and other local police agencies routinely hold suspected undocumented immigrants for patrol agents.

The police chief also rejected a comment by Ezell during the television interview that Burgreen “wants to make a name for himself” through use of the hands-off policy, which has been strongly endorsed by Latino groups.