- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

D.C. police officers making routine stops are prohibited from asking people about their immigration status, Metropolitan Police officials said yesterday in a restatement of department policy.

“We will leave that to the federal officials,” Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said at a briefing to announce new training procedures and a public information campaign about the policy.

Chief Ramsey also said illegal immigrants need to know that reporting a crime does not mean a trip back to their native country and that officers will deliver fair and equal police services to every person within the District.

D.C. police officers cannot inquire about somebody’s residency status under a 1984 executive order that prohibits D.C. government employees from getting involved in immigration matters.

The policy on immigrants has not changed in 19 years, but adherence to it among D.C. officers purportedly has lapsed at times.

The policy became a major issue during the Mount Pleasant riots in 1991. Blacks and Hispanics took to the streets for three days of burning and looting in protest of a rookie cop who shot a Hispanic man before a crowd of witnesses.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said the city has become less vigilant about keeping officers from stopping Hispanics on the street and using the threat of deportation to press them for information.

Ten percent of the District’s population is Hispanic, with the majority in Mr. Graham’s ward.

“My office has taken several complaints about police violating the policy and inquiring about immigration status,” Mr. Graham said. “And that does concern us.”

Chief Ramsey said he was not restating the policy over accusations that officers were failing to follow procedure.

Rather, “There was an agreement between the mayor [Anthony A. Williams] and the Latino Lawyers Association that we would reiterate the policy and we are doing that,” he said.

Mr Graham said crimes against immigrants in the District go unreported and immigrants are reluctant to cooperate with police investigations.

He also said many Hispanics expect the same experience with D.C. officers as those they had with police in their native countries, “which was not good.”

“What you don’t want is this natural mistrust compounded by officers asking residents questions they should not be [asking] about their status,” Mr. Graham said.

D.C. police, however, are required to ask for identification in all situations. Police also must ask immigrants who are suspects about their residency status. Cases with residency violations are turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“The myth is that when an officer asks for identification he wants to see your immigration papers and your status, but that is not their job,” said Enrique Rivera, the chief’s special assistant on Hispanic affairs.

Chief Ramsey said the policy does not conflict with efforts to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The chief said he made it clear to federal officials that D.C. police cannot be used for immigration enforcement, unless in specific cases such as a terrorist cell that has been identified.

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