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Back to Archives | Back to April 2006 Contents 

President's Message

Immigration Enforcement by Nonfederal Police Agencies

By Chief Mary Ann Viverette, Gaithersburg, Maryland

n the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, law enforcement agencies at all levels of government have been required to reassess their responsibilities and duties. We have had to face new challenges and meet the increased expectations of the public and our elected officials.

I am proud of the magnificent job that state and local law enforcement agencies have done in meeting the challenges presented by this new reality, and believe that we have done much to make our communities and our citizens safer and more secure.

This has been accomplished because law enforcement agencies have used a variety of methods, including increased cooperation with federal law enforcement, reassessment of current training and patrol methods, and greater communication and intelligence sharing between and among law enforcement agencies.

But the specter of foreign terrorists has also brought the state and local law enforcement community face-to-face with a critical and fundamental question that will likely shape the way we police our communities: namely, what role should state and local law enforcement play in the enforcement of federal immigration laws?

Significantly, in the 113-year history of the IACP, the membership has never adopted a resolution or policy position on this vital question. The reason for this silence is clear. There is a significant difference of opinion in the law enforcement profession on this issue.

Many law enforcement executives believe that state and local law enforcement should not be involved in the enforcement of civil immigration laws because such involvement would likely have a chilling effect on both legal and illegal aliens who might otherwise report criminal activity or assist police in criminal investigations.

They believe that this lack of cooperation could diminish the ability of law enforcement agencies to effectively police their communities and protect the public they serve.

Other law enforcement executives believe that it is appropriate for state and local law enforcement to play an active role in immigration enforcement because individuals who are in the country illegally have violated the law and should be treated in the same fashion as other criminals. They feel that it is the duty of state and local law enforcement to assist the federal government in apprehending and detaining these individuals.

Both viewpoints raise valid arguments, and it is easy to understand why no consensus has been reached and no policy position has been adopted by the IACP.

At the Los Angeles conference in 2004, the IACP Executive Committee adopted a policy that held that the question of state, tribal, or local law enforcements participation in immigration enforcement is an inherently local decision that must be made by a police chief, working with his or her elected officials, community leaders, and citizens.

In addition, the IACP position paper on the subject examined the concerns and obstacles that currently hinder enforcement efforts by state, tribal, and local law enforcement and set forth what the IACP determined should be key elements of any immigration enforcement activity by non-federal law enforcement agencies.

But over the last two years, the controversy and questions surrounding immigration enforcement has grown and, as a result, the pressure being placed on state and local law enforcement agencies has increased.

Communities around the country are growing increasingly divided over the question of how to address issues related to illegal immi grants and the role they play in our society.

Elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels have developed a variety of legislative proposals addressing immigration enforcement that have the potential to fundamentally alter the way our agencies police our communities.

It is for these reasons that at its Boston meeting, the IACP Executive Committee will be holding a detailed discussion over the question of immigration enforcement. This discussion will bring together experts from federal, state, and local law enforcement, advocacy groups, and the legal profession to discuss questions related to not only the authority of law enforcement agencies in this area but also the costs and training needs associated with enforcement, its potential impact on our communities, and its role in homeland security efforts.

It is my hope that through these discussions, and other outreach efforts, the IACP will be able to provide our members, as well as our elected officials and communities, with a clearer understanding of the impact immigration enforcement will have on the capabilities and effectiveness of our agencies and our continuing ability to protect the communities we serve. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 4, April 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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