Why We Can't Work for the INS E-mail
Since the tragedy of September 11th, the federal government has been looking for new ways to help the Immigration and Naturalization Service locate the large amount of illegal immigrants roaming the countryside. The fear is that many of these immigrants are potential terrorists and need to be found immediately. No one wants to find these people more than I do. There has been talk that local law enforcement will be given the authority to enforce the immigration laws and assist with deportation. Some within the department have said they see both the positive and negative in enforcing these laws. I do not share their opinion on this topic. There are times when there must be a separation between federal state and local law enforcement.

Lack of trust is one of the obvious problems that will occur when dealing with immigration laws. Will victims of crimes want to come forward if it means they may be deported? Crimes could go unreported, leaving criminals unpunished. Knowing this, criminals may start targeting those they feel will not report it to police. Would a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence ever call the police? Without getting help she will become another unreported statistic living in an abusive situation. Crimes that could be solved will not be. Criminals that should be behind bars will be walking the street targeting others. What about witnesses? Would a person who witnessed a crime come forward if their immigration status came into question? People will not want to help if they fear the police. The police cannot properly enforce laws and keep the peace without the assistance and trust of the citizens in the community.

If someone witnessed a crime against you, would you care what their immigration status was as long as they came forward? There are many times when street officers go call-to-call handling the non-stop requests for police assistance. If you add in the future calls from citizens wanting officers to check on the immigration status of their neighbors, it could overwhelm the system. I can already see disturbances where one person is upset and now wants to report someone as an illegal alien. Officers would be forced to take action and further deplete the limited amount of officers on the street. And where would we put all of the people? The small Omaha PD jail becomes overcrowded on holiday weekends!

How about racial profiling? Everyone is always concerned about officers singling out a certain group of people just because of the color of their skin. Just when exactly are we supposed to ask someone if they are a U.S. citizen? Do you think someone may become upset or offended by that question? Complaints will surely rise with lawsuits not far behind. Will the department set guidelines when officers are to ask these personal questions? Will officers be subject to disciplinary action if they allow an illegal immigrant to get away?

Training is another issue that must be addressed. Most officers have never seen foreign documents or identification cards, other than a Mexican driver's license that most officers cannot read. Who will pay for the proper training of local law enforcement? Or will it once again be a quick bulletin and off we go? How about the obvious language barrier? We barely have enough officers who speak Spanish to investigate criminal cases and the occasional drunk driver. We definitely do not have enough officers to handle all the translation that will be required in South Omaha to check people's immigration status.Stopping a vehicle to issue a simple ticket may not be so simple anymore. Enforcing immigration laws may lead to pursuits. We have all seen how illegal immigrants flee at the sight of an INS van. I wonder how they will feel when they look in their mirror and see a police cruiser pulling them over? Will they stop or will they flee out of fear of being deported? If they are involved in an accident, will they stop and exchange information or leave before the police arrive?

These are questions that only time will tell. I understand and agree that changes must be made to help the INS in their quest to protect the U.S. from terrorism. However, having local law enforcement enforce federal immigration laws may not be the answer.

Jerry Martinez is a police officer in Omaha, Nebraska. Reprinted from The Shield, the official publication of the Omaha Police Union.

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