Los Angeles’ top elected officials are urging federal authorities to stop the practice of immigration officers identifying themselves as “police” in their search for people living in the country illegally.
Citing a practice disclosed this week in The Times, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Council President Herb Wesson cosigned a letter to the directors of the immigration services “to urge in the strongest possible terms that ICE immediately cease this practice in our city.”
The letter said the practice undermines decades of work by the Los Angeles Police Department to build trust within the city’s large immigrant community so that those in the country illegally can report crimes and offer information to police without fear of deportation.
Since the late 1970s, the LAPD has followed a policy prohibiting officers from initiating contact with anyone for the purpose of learning that person’s immigration status.
In response to a Times inquiry about the letter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice issued a statement saying ICE agents can, “as a standard practice … initially identify themselves as ‘police’ during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world.
“In the often dangerous law enforcement arena,” agents identifying themselves as law enforcement could be a “life-or-death issue,” the statement added.
However, Kice said, ICE-issued uniforms and jackets also display the word “ICE” to indicate the specific law enforcement agency.
The letter was sent to the directors of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE and copied to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
The Times story, which was published online Tuesday, described a video showing an ICE officer knocking on a door and identifying himself as a police officer conducting an investigation.
The video has reignited long-simmering objections from immigrant rights attorneys and advocates who say the scene illustrates ruses ICE agents have used for years, portraying themselves as officers from local police departments to ensnare people or fool them into revealing the whereabouts of family members.
There is nothing illegal about ICE agents simply identifying themselves as police officers while standing outside someone’s front door. However, without a warrant, they cannot force their way into someone’s home; instead, they must receive consent from an adult to enter.
Feuer said the letter did not argue that the practice is illegal.
“At this point, this is a request grounded on the public safety implications of misrepresentation as police,” Feuer said.
“There is no question that in the city of Los Angeles, the word ‘police’ means LAPD,” he said.