Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Police Chiefs Thumb Nose At Illegal-Immigration Laws

Police Chiefs Thumb Nose At Illegal-Immigration Laws

What's up with California police chiefs? Not long after I submitted my last column, in which I criticized Sacramento's police chief for excusing illegal immigration (by blaming Americans for creating such an attractive magnet), I turned the radio on to hear San Jose's chief of police denying that his department is participating on raids on illegal immigrants.

I'm not kidding.

"We really and truly want the community to know that we're not acting as agents for the immigration service," The San Jose Mercury News reported San Jose Chief of Police Rob Davis as saying, in Spanish and English, at a June 18 news conference.

"That's not something we do," he said. "We're not interested in participating in any raids, nor have we been doing so."

Now, I'm sure I'll hear from police administrators telling me how local law-enforcement agencies don't have the time, the resources or the authority to conduct immigration raids. That's all fine and good, but why on earth does the police chief, the highest-ranking law-enforcement official in the city, have to call a press conference to reassure illegal immigrants they are safe in San Jose? Currying favor with the city's politicians, perhaps?

It's not that I believe all people who come here illegally are criminals. Many are not, though we've got a good number of them sitting in our jails and prisons. But the folks who come here illegally are not stupid. They know they broke a law to get here, and they know they are staying here illegally. Why are our top cops publicly excusing their behavior?

San Jose city officials felt compelled to respond to rumors circulating in the immigrant community about possible raids by immigration officials. Such raids have been going on in Southern California amid complaints by immigrant civil rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

Apparently, San Jose's Spanish-language media were reporting possible raids at malls, at day laborers' gathering points and at local grocery stores.

In early June, sweeps by U.S. Border Patrol agents resulted in more than 400 arrests in Southern California, mainly in the Inland Empire and San Diego. Arrests were made outside grocery stores and at apartment buildings and bus stops. Most of the people arrested were from Mexico, although some hail from other Latin American countries.

State Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-South Gate) says racial profiling is driving the arrests and has complained, along with other immigrant rights advocates, that border agents are arresting only illegal immigrants who are Latino.

Earth to Firebaugh: Southern California shares a border with Mexico. It shouldn't be a major surprise to you that the majority of illegal immigrants arrested in the sweeps are Latinos. Southern California just doesn't have a huge number of Canadian or Polish illegal immigrants.

People are also complaining that the arrests are being made in the interior of the state. Until last August, border agents had been restricted to making arrests only near the border or at highway checkpoints. But that four-year-old policy was lifted, and agents are now reaching into communities well inside California to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants.

Immigrant rights advocates complain that the sweeps are making people living in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods nervous.

You know, if you are here legally, you have nothing to fear. But the young pregnant woman in Riverside County whose husband and brothers-in-law were just caught and deported does. It's sad she is now left in the United States alone and illegal, but she and her husband knowingly broke the laws of our nation and should be sent back to their homeland.

Has she turned herself in so she can be reunited with her husband in Mexico? No.

"I'm just here waiting, hoping that my husband comes back," she told an Associated Press reporter.

I'm sure she would like her child to be born here and have the opportunities that come with U.S. citizenship. But millions of people around the world are waiting for permission from the United States to legally enter our country -- and she should return home and join those ranks.

Last week, working on a tip, Los Angeles police officers broke into a hotel room and freed 28 illegal immigrants who had been held hostage by smugglers. A fellow illegal immigrant had paid the smugglers off and told the police about the other folks, who were still being held against their will.

Of course, these people -- 25 men, two women and one child -- were subsequently held by federal authorities, and arrangements were made to send them back to Mexico. In the interim, the police fed them, because the smugglers had held them for several days without any food.

Despite the fact that the police were helping these people, they were faced with a crowd of angry onlookers, who, according to newspaper reports, held large Mexican flags and chanted, "Let them go!" The crowd tried to block the street as vans arrived to take the immigrants away, and someone threw a rock at the police.

An attorney who works with the Mexican consulate complained about the Los Angeles Police Department cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Sorry, but the local police should be working with the Feds when they have the time and resources, particularly when it comes to catching illegal-immigrant smugglers. Those folks -- the smugglers -- are a criminal element contributing to the city's crime rate, and the police should be involved with catching and arresting them. And, if illegal immigrants are apprehended as well, they should be deported.

Last week, the media covered the plight of a Filipino family living in Fremont that was deported after residing illegally in the United States for 20 years. The parents kept the family secret from their now-adult children, who are, with their parents, moving back to a country they left as small children. Though friends, immigration rights advocates and some members of the media are screaming about the injustice of deporting what some are calling an "all American" family, the bottom line is that the parents knew all these years they were residing in the United States illegally. They let their one-year visitor visas expire in 1985 and never took steps to fix their legal status until 1996, despite a law change in 1992 that opened a window for achieving legal residency.

It's a sad story, but why should the government deport a farm worker who is picking artichokes and has been here illegally for six months, and look the other way on behalf of the Cuevas family simply because they have been here, also illegally, for far longer?

As a nation, we have often ignored the tough issues around illegal immigration and homeland security. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that. The U.S. Border Patrol and immigration authorities are stepping up their efforts to find illegal immigrants and deport them.

For national-security reasons, as well for protecting the safety and rights of people, we need to know who is living within our borders. No doubt there are many, many sad stories of illegal immigrants living here with high hopes of achieving the American dream for themselves and their families. But the time has come in our nation's history when we can no longer look the other way when it comes to illegal immigration.

But it would sure be nice if the police chiefs around the state felt the same way!

Jennifer Nelson, an Oakland writer, worked in policymaking positions in the Deukmejian and Wilson administrations. She can be reached at


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