- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Florida officials have asked the federal government to let state and local police arrest and detain suspected illegal aliens.
If approved, the proposal would mark the first time that state or local law-enforcement officials have been empowered to arrest aliens for violating immigration law, a function assigned to Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents.
The state has submitted to the Justice Department a plan that calls for 35 Florida law-enforcement officers to receive special training from the INS in immigration law.
The officers would then be assigned in teams of five to the state's seven regional anti-terrorism task forces and would be empowered to stop, question and jail undocumented aliens.
The regional task forces are teams made up of rescue specialists, doctors, lawmen and various types of emergency personnel. The teams share responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks and are assigned to manage response when assaults can't be stopped.
Some national Hispanic activists immediately decried the proposal.
"The Latino population is concerned about this," said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, an activist group that calls itself "the largest constituency-based national Hispanic organization, serving all Hispanic nationality groups in all regions of the country," according to its Web site (www.nclr.org).
"We're against that type of collaboration," she said. "We believe that is not an effective way to fight terrorism, and it will affect a lot of people who are here unlawfully and those here lawfully. It will lead to racial profiling and to civil rights violations."
Jose Pertierra, a District-based immigration attorney, said immigration matters are too complex for local police to handle. He also predicted "racial profiling."
"Granting Florida police such authority creates legal problems. Next to tax law, immigration law is the most codified and complex and requires extensive training to understand. Training for non-INS police would not be sufficient, and there will be selective enforcement a focus on 'foreign-looking people,' whatever that means," he said.
The concept of giving local police the authority Florida seeks is not new. In 1996, when Congress revised immigration laws, it included provisions authorizing the INS to train local law enforcement officers with a view toward local lawmen supplementing INS enforcement efforts.
Discretion to approve requests for training and arrest authority was given to the Attorney General. Until now, though, empowering any but federal authorities to enforce immigration law was deemed inappropriate, though the INS has insisted it has too few special agents to cope with the more than 8 million illegal border-crossers in the nation.
Because of the agent shortage, there have been many reports that the INS is unable to respond when police ask for assistance after encountering vans or trucks believed to be smuggling aliens into the country.
The St. Petersburg Times reported last week, for instance, that police outside Tallahassee discovered 26 persons crammed into a U-Haul truck. The travelers couldn't speak English, had no identification and couldn't establish that they were U.S. residents.
The police called for INS agents, who never arrived, and the 26 went on their way. Florida police report that such occurrences are common in the state.
Since September 11 and the discovery that most of the 19 terrorists involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon spent time in Florida, state law enforcement agencies have been especially sensitive to sneaky incursions into the country. The Justice Department are similarly concerned.
Justice officials will give no details about the negotiations with Florida. Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden would only say that the "Justice Department and INS are exploring every way to make the enforcement of our immigration laws more effective."
However, a Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, "The Attorney General has the authority to grant that power and is now making use of it."
Allan Dennis, spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was reluctant to reveal the details of the plan.
"It would be premature," he said. "We've made our proposals in a memorandum of understanding, and the Justice Department may amend them."
But, he said, "This is not about squads of officers doing the INS' duties. It's not about raiding migrant farm workers' camps looking for green cards. It is about giving regular police someone in their region's task force to call when they encounter suspicious circumstances."
Mr. Dennis said he is alarmed at the opposition by some Hispanic and pro-immigration groups to Florida's request.
"We will touch bases with the various immigration groups to make sure they understand what this is and what it is not about," he said. "We want to do this, and we want to do it right."


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