Advertisement

L.A. Police and <i> La Migra--</i> an Overbearing Partnership

<i> Antonio H. Rodriguez is an attorney and director of the Latino Community Justice Center</i>

The collaboration of the Los Angeles Police Department with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Latino communities should be halted immediately. Their joint operations are discriminatory measures that are damaging relations between Latinos and the Police Department.

For several months Latinos have protested Police Department harassment of day laborers at sites where immigrants and refugees gather to seek work. The Police Department maintains that it is enforcing anti-loitering laws and answering complaints from local residents and business persons that the presence of the day laborers blights their neighborhood.

The plight of immigrants and refugees in our country is largely an economic problem. It is not one of crime. The day laborers, for example, are mainly immigrants, most of whom did not qualify for the amnesty legalization program and who are trying to eke out survival without resorting to other methods. Our city government apparently recognized this dilemma and recently allocated funds to establish a pilot project to create and coordinate job pickup sites for day laborers. It was a wise and compassionate move. By assisting desperate workers trying to survive by working, the city discourages people from turning to crime as an alternative, defuses a divisive social problem and helps to promote harmony.

However, in a clear contradiction, the Police Department has been participating in joint raids with the INS at labor pickup sites.

Advertisement

On June 30, the department combined forces in a daylight “drug” raid of MacArthur and Lafayette parks, in the heart of the Salvadoran community.

The collaboration of the Police Department with INS is sowing Latino community anger and distrust against the department and city government. It is creating the fear that city-sponsored labor pickup sites may be traps for INS raids. The raids are inconsistent with the 1986 City Council resolution providing that the city will not report undocumented persons to the INS unless they have committed multiple misdemeanors or a serious felony.

The Police Department actions also violate the longstanding department policy not to use city funds to enforce federal immigration laws. The policy, like the 1986 resolution, was designed precisely to encourage undocumented immigrants and refugees to cooperate with law enforcement and other government agencies by reporting crimes and serving as witnesses.

Police officials justify police partici-pation in the raids at labor pickup siteson the grounds that they are providing backup for the INS. However, their presence has been pervasive and they have played an active role in the arrests.

Advertisement

As far as the community is concerned, we are witnessing police officers conducting immigration raids alongside immigration agents and immigration agents participating in police raids. Unfortunately, this is the direct result of well-intentioned but ill-conceived efforts of some City Council members to address the crime problem in the Latino community.

INS raids differ in objective from police drug raids. INS raids in the Latino communities are general searches made without warrants to ferret out the undocumented. They are unconstitutional and discriminatory because they target people on the basis of skin color, language or community in which they live, work or enjoy recreation, regardless of immigration status.

Police raids, on the other hand, should be based on previously gathered intelligence and target identified, suspected criminals. But when the INS and Police Department conduct joint raids, the operations necessarily become immigration raids. They may apprehend some criminals, but they target and capture in their net many innocent persons who are then taken prisoner by INS agents if they are undocumented.

For example, in the MacArthur and Lafayette parks raid, hundreds of persons at the park were questioned, not only the “known drug traffickers,” during four hours of widespread general panic. Only 78 persons were arrested and more than half of them were not charged with crimes but were arrested for being undocumented. Others, including U.S. citizens, documented persons, children, young people playing soccer and the homeless who just happened to be at the park were checked by the INS and released.

Advertisement

Latinos are just as concerned as anyone about increasing crime. They are involved in citywide grass-roots, anti-crime efforts. But the INS has been a threat to us and our families and the increasing collaboration of the department with the INS could cause many to withdraw from cooperating with the police in those efforts.

Criminals come from all class and national origins. The use of the INS at police anti-crime operations against Latinos is discriminatory, singles out immigrants and makes them scapegoats for crime rates.

If local law enforcement does not want to erase the progress made in the efforts to build the trust and support of immigrants for crime-control efforts, then the police should halt its participation with INS in raids and other operations.

Police agencies must deal with our community as with any other community. Target the criminals among us based on their crimes, not their immigration status.

Advertisement


Advertisement
Advertisement