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View From Lodi, CA: To Eliminate Illegal Immigration—Empower the Local Police!
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June 16, 2006, 05:00 AM
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A Memorial Day weekend Lodi News-Sentinel story, Should Lodi police crack down on illegals?" Jake Armstrong, Lodi News-Sentinel, May 27, 2006  asked whether Lodi police should, under certain circumstances, exercise a federal option to detain illegal aliens.

When read in conjunction with subsequent Armstrong pieces on June 9th and June 13th about crime and gang activity on East Locust Street, concerned citizens can make an outstanding case for enabling local police to enforce immigration laws. [Stepping up to the plate on Locust Street, Jake Armstrong, Lodi News-Sentinel, June 9, 2006 ; Locust Street Residents seek solutions, Jake Armstrong, Lodi News-Sentinel, June 13, 2006]

The Locust Street neighborhood is home to hundreds of illegal aliens at least some of who are involved in gang or other criminal behavior.

Dozens of Lodi law enforcement officers patrol the community, all day, every day. Last night, I saw a patrolman combing the area on bicycle. They know their beat and can spot in an instant when things are out of sync. Any out of the ordinary behavior jumps out at them.

Yet when it comes to enforcing immigration laws, these officers are a largely untapped resource. While police have the option to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it is done on a case-by-case basis.

But the overriding factor should be whether or not law enforcement action on immigration status might make the community safer. And if the answer is yes, then officers should report aliens to federal authorities.

According Armstrong, Capt. David Mann says that getting gang members—or cholos—out of the neighborhood would remove a burden from the shoulders of Lodi police.

What better way to lighten law enforcement`s load than to begin deportation proceedings, if suspects are illegally residing in the U.S.?

All state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers swear to uphold the law including the U.S. Constitution.

In a 1996 Department of Justice legal opinion put it, "It is well-settled that state law enforcement officers are permitted to enforce federal statutes where such enforcement activities do not impair federal regulatory interests."

But some have philosophical objections to using local police in any role that involves immigration.

Immigrant activists claim that police involvement would create a Gestapo atmosphere. But again, the question becomes what is best for Lodi`s common good: ignoring illegal aliens at the expense of the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens or moving to have aliens deported?

Others claim that localized immigration enforcement would reduce cooperation by ethnic communities with the police. According to them, if police took on immigration enforcement, illegal aliens would not report crimes and police departments would lose their trust, they say.

But this theory is speculation. And, no one contemplates a police round up of illegal aliens or mass deportations.

What`s proposed is that local officers, as they come into contact with suspects in their daily rounds, pursue immigration-related indicators during traffic stops or other routine encounters.

Besides, there are occasions in which an officer might decide not to ask about immigration status, such as when someone calls for help in an emergency. But police should be able to exercise authority in immigration matters when circumstances dictate.

Officers face other challenges, too, such as not having access to timely information about immigration violators.

Municipal budgets are strained. Small cities like Lodi don`t have the jail space to detain aliens or the resources to transfer them to federal facilities.

And there is always the threat of a "violation of rights" lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union or some other liberal legal entity.

Despite all the obstacles, local police and city fathers want to do the right thing for Lodians.

And the right thing for the well being of Lodi residents is to hold immigration violators accountable. The possibility of being deported—now virtually non-existent—would serve as a deterrent and fewer people would be likely to enter the U.S. illegally.

If the goal is to end illegal immigration, which everyone agrees on, then the first step is to grant greater authority to the local police.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.