Coleman wants police to be able to ask about immigration statusby Joshua Freed, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Minnesota U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman says he wants cities to stop ordering police to look the other way on immigration issues.
Coleman, a Republican, said on Friday that he will introduce legislation that would bar the practice of several cities, including Minneapolis, of telling police not to ask about immigration status.
Coleman said this week's arrest of six Muslim men on the East Coast showed the need for the change. He cited unconfirmed media reports that the suspects had been stopped for several traffic violations without being asked about their immigration status. Doing so could have detected the plot sooner, he said.
"The recent capture of the alleged terrorists who plotted to attack Fort Dix raises serious concerns about 'sanctuary cities' that prohibit local law enforcement officials from asking suspects they apprehend about their immigration status, or notifying federal authorities," Coleman said in a prepared statement.
Mayor R.T. Rybak has said illegal immigrants will be afraid to report crimes or cooperate with police if they fear being handed over to federal authorities.
Other so-called "sanctuary cities" include Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
Coleman's office said a 1996 federal law means no one can stop police from telling federal authorities what they learn about the immigration status of people they deal with.
But many cities have skirted that by barring police from looking into immigration status at all.
Coleman's planned bill hasn't been drafted yet, but his office said the idea is that it would tell federal, state and local governments that they cannot keep their police officers from looking into immigration status.
"We're not handing down a mandate," said Coleman spokesman LeRoy Coleman. "He's merely saying, we need to open up the lines of communication. And this is one of the most effective ways to do it. We have officers who are on the front lines each and every day, and they have the ability to collect this information, and so they need to take that and pass it along."
Hightstown, N.J., Mayor Robert Patten said it's not that simple. His town of 5,300 has adopted a policy of having its police officers not look into immigration status.
He did say that if police arrest someone on another matter and that person has a federal warrant for immigration or anything else, officers will hand that person over. Otherwise, they don't look into it.
He said the town's attorney talked to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement first.
"ICE flatly said 'It's not your problem with immigration. You don't have anything to do at all with deciding these matters.'"
Patten said it would be tough for police to look into immigration status without relying on racial factors.
"If a guy's blond and blue-eyed in Minnesota nobody's going to ask him, but if he looks like he's from another part of the world, everybody's going to ask him. You can't do that."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)