11:48 am Jul 31, 2002

Area activists wary of border policing plan

By Ignacio Ibarra
Arizona Daily Star

Justice Department efforts to enlist local police in enforcing U.S. immigration laws threatens civil liberties on the border and could damage community policing efforts in Hispanic communities, according to local activists and some law enforcement officers.

The rules, published July 24 in the federal register and scheduled to take effect Aug. 23, authorize the U.S. Attorney General to enter into contingency agreements with state and local authorities for the use of local police in the event the Attorney General declares a "mass influx of aliens," or other immigration emergency.

Under the rules, which implement a provision of the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act, the definition of a "mass influx of aliens" would not be limited to some numerical standard, but would include situations in which public safety or the safety of the illegal migrants themselves were jeopardized. The attorney General would also be required to define the geographic area affected, and establish a beginning and ending date for the declared emergency.

Critics, like Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based human rights group, say the rules are vaguely worded and place too much authority in the hands of the Attorney General. She said the rules are a thinly veiled attempt to extend the Border Patrol's expansive search and seizure authority to local police, making it more likely that people of color will be racially profiled, harassed and abused.

It is a plan that will only exacerbate the tensions between police and the Hispanic and other minority communities in the U.S.

"Our main concern is that we already have the largest armed and uniformed police agency in the country in the Border Patrol. To now set about in a willy nilly fashion to deputize local officers, giving them extraordinary powers without any real concern for issues like training, supervision and liability ... would be a major mistake and a major setback for those of us living in border states and other areas where there are people of color," said Garcia.