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Will the AZ Immigration Law Make the Job of Police Harder?

A group of police chiefs — including L.A.'s Charlie Beck — say that illegal aliens will be more reluctant to help fight crime out of fear of law enforcement.

by
Jack Dunphy

Bio

May 28, 2010 - 12:00 am

Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, has spoken out against Arizona’s new law on illegal aliens.  The only surprise in this is that it took so long.

Chief Beck is an honorable man and is — so far, at least — respected within the ranks of the LAPD, but he is also a man who knows where his bread is buttered.  He is an appointee of the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who enthusiastically advocates amnesty for illegal immigrants, and it is inconceivable that Beck would have been named to the job if he could not be reliably counted on to parrot the mayor’s opinions on a range of matters, most especially illegal immigration.

Beck was one of several police chiefs in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday who met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the Arizona law. “This is not a law that increases public safety,” said Beck, as quoted in the Washington Post. “This is a bill that makes it much harder for us to do our jobs.  Crime will go up if this becomes law in Arizona or in any other state.”

Rubbish.

It is disappointing to see Beck joining the ranks of alarmists predicting all manner of calamity should the Arizona law take effect as scheduled on July 29.  It is all the more disappointing to see him do so by mischaracterizing what the law says.  The Los Angeles Times reported his statement thus:

Beck said that his officers are guided by a different set of rules than the ones laid out in the Arizona law. For more than three decades the LAPD has followed a policy that prohibits officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether he or she is in the country legally.

Assuming the L.A. Times has accurately paraphrased Beck’s statement, we can reach either of two possible conclusions: that he is misinformed on the language of the new law, or he is deliberately distorting the truth to serve a political agenda.  Neither choice is comforting.

Like the LAPD policy in place since 1979, the Arizona law specifically prohibits officers from stopping anyone for the sole purpose of determining his immigration status.  Arizona goes beyond the limits of the LAPD policy only in that it allows inquiry into an individual’s immigration status after a detention based on reasonable suspicion rather than an arrest based on probable cause.  The reasonable suspicion must concern some crime other than illegal immigration.  This important provision has been widely reported but just as widely ignored by those who seek to discredit the new law and forestall its enforcement.

It is also disappointing to see Beck and other police chiefs from outside Arizona rendering such harsh  judgment on a law that was duly considered and drafted through that state’s democratic process, and one that enjoys such widespread public support within the state.  The people of Arizona have acted to confront what they perceive to be a problem, one that has gone unaddressed by the federal government for far too long.  The law is merely an attempt to deal with the farcical notion that anyone who manages to sneak into the United States and escape detection within a few miles of the border should then be allowed to live untroubled by the prospect of deportation for as long as he chooses.  The status quo advocated by Beck and others has police officers blithely ignoring violations of some laws while trying to enforce others.  In a nation of laws, this is unacceptable.

One hopes that Chief Beck, in dealing with those who disagree with him on this issue, will be less arrogant than was his predecessor, former LAPD Chief William Bratton.  Back in 2003, Bratton was a guest of KABC radio’s Ken Minyard when a caller raised the issue of police officers taking a role in the enforcement of immigration laws.  Bratton’s response fairly oozed with the condescension for which he is so widely known.  “Inasmuch as California has pretty much indicated they don’t want the police involved in that issue,” he said, “we’re out of that business.  So that’s the reality of California.  If you don’t like it leave the state.” (The printed word doesn’t come close to capturing Bratton’s characteristic hauteur.  You can hear the exchange in RealPlayer format here.)

Oddly enough, it was Bratton who chose to leave California last year.  He resigned his post in the middle of his second five-year contract rather than remain in office to confront the budgetary constraints now facing Chief Beck.  And a large factor in the fiscal woes plaguing the city of Los Angeles and the state of California is the financial burden attendant to an exploding population of  illegal immigrants.

For all the hysteria being whipped up by Beck and his fellow Arizona-bashers, there is little likelihood the new law will have the disastrous consequences being predicted.  Beck foresaw higher crime should the Arizona law take effect, telling reporters that “legislation like this inhibits us from doing our jobs” and will dissuade immigrants from coming forward as victims and witnesses.  “The fear of the police already inhibits immigrants from coming forward to a certain extent,” he said. “But if you add this piece you increase the reluctance tenfold.”

It is no doubt true that some illegal immigrants are reluctant to speak to the police, but it has been my experience that they are less fearful of being deported than they are of being retaliated against by criminal gang members, a large number of whom are themselves illegal immigrants.  Yes, the new Arizona law brings the potential for error and even abuse, but that potential exists in every aspect of police work, and we don’t ask police officers to ignore violations of the law because they might make a mistake.

My guess is that police officers in Arizona, when armed with this new law, will concentrate their efforts on those illegal immigrants whose criminal predations fall most heavily on their law-abiding neighbors.  Had such a law been in place in Texas a few years ago, Houston police officer Henry Canales might be alive today.  The men accused of murdering him last year, both  illegal immigrants with criminal records, are today on trial in Houston.  The Houston Chronicle reported on their arrest last year:

Capital murder charges have been filed against Andres Maldonado Nava, 41, of Mexico, and Xiomara Mendez Rosales, 36, of Honduras.

According to Ken Land-grebe, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, Maldonado had used eight false identities between 1985 and 1992, and was arrested in California between 1990 and 1992 for attempted murder, robbery, being under the influence of drugs, grand theft, assault and exhibiting a firearm. Mendez, authorities said, was arrested in Houston on charges of assault of a family member in 2006, but the charges were dismissed.

A recent violent crime in the state of Washington has produced a man who may be the single most gleaming example that demonstrates just how pathetically impotent our immigration enforcement system is.  Jose Lopez Madrigal was arrested in Edmond, Wash., on May 16 and charged with rape.  Seattle’s KING television reported that Madrigal had previously been deported nine times:

[L]earning [Madrigal’s] identity took much longer because of some 30 aliases. It was only through fingerprints that they identified him as Madrigal, a Mexican citizen.

Madrigal’s arrest and immigration record includes a staggering number of contacts with law enforcement since 1989. That’s the year he was convicted of theft using a firearm in California.

He was deported a couple of times after that. Then in 1999, he was arrested for drug sales in both San Diego and San Francisco. Records show that he was deported three times that year between April and August.

He was arrested for drugs again in Stockton, Calif. in 2000. In 2002, he pleaded to third degree sexual assault in Denver. Later that year, he was deported again. And in 2003, records show he was deported three more times.

Police allege that Madrigal dragged a woman off an Edmond street and was in the process of raping her next to a trash Dumpster when officers, alerted to the crime by a witness, arrested him.

I suspect if we were to ask that rape victim her opinion of Arizona’s new law, she would offer a hearty endorsement.  Would Chief Beck tell her she’s wrong?

Jack Dunphy is the pseudonym of a police officer in Southern California.
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