In Minnesota, immigration status is largely irrelevantby Richard Stanek
Arizona's pending immigration law is cutting-edge public policy adopted in a public safety environment that is unique, and very different from Minnesota's.
Elected officials in Arizona believe they have a looming public safety and economic crisis; they have the highest number of immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, with an estimated 460,000 illegal aliens in the state in 2009.
Under Minnesota law, immigration status is largely irrelevant. Minnesota law enforcement officers don't inquire about immigration status. Immigrant status becomes an issue only during lawful criminal investigations or if an arrestee is booked into jail, when federal law requires us to verify status with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Under both federal and state law, those who may be here illegally are entitled to constitutional protections of due process and equal protection under the law. Minnesota law enforcement is dedicated to protecting and preserving the civil rights of all members of our community. In the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, we are committed to "community-oriented policing" -- working to build trusting relationships with all of the residents and visitors in our communities, regardless of their legal status. We regularly conduct roundtable policy discussions with a diverse group of community leaders; we provide extensive education and diversity training for our deputies, and our hiring policies are geared toward developing an agency that reflects the communities we serve.
In law enforcement, we encourage communication; we don't want residents to hesitate in contacting law enforcement if they are victims of crime, need our assistance, or have information about a crime or public safety incident. We can be much more effective when we work in partnership with those we serve.
Minnesota has a dozen or so "Sanctuary Cities" with "don't ask, don't tell" mandates to prohibit police officers from asking about immigration status without criminal cause. In my view, these ordinances are simply political statements, and provide no additional legal protection to illegal immigrants than already currently provided under state and federal law.
Under current law, the United States grants legal permanent status by lottery to over 1 million new immigrants each year, more than any other country in the world. Each and every undocumented border crossing is a violation of federal immigration law; and while the state of Arizona has made many requests for federal enforcement and border patrols, to many the response has seemed inadequate.
Arizona law enforcement is divided on this new law. Many of the rank-and-file officers are supportive, in part because violent crime rates in Phoenix and Tucson are substantially higher than rates across the United States, according to a study of crime trends by Arizona State University. However, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has been critical of the "attrition through enforcement" doctrine, calling implementation "problematic" in their official statement.
The chiefs have raised concerns about the conflict with their goals for community-oriented policing. They don't want illegal immigrants to fear police, or hesitate in contacting them when they are victims of a crime or have knowledge about one. The International Chiefs of Police Association has documented that "immigrants are more likely to be victimized than other members of the general population ... illegal immigrants are often afraid to report crime to local authorities, making them easy targets for those with criminal intentions." Their official position cites specific concerns about human trafficking and crimes against women. Looking at immigration from the perspective of crime and victimization suggests another level of complexity in enforcing the new Arizona law.
The Arizona law has already been amended, even before taking effect on July 28, 2010. I commend the chiefs for their work to improve the new law in three important ways:
The law was amended to clarify that police may only investigate immigration status in relation to a lawful stop, detention or arrest, and prosecutors may not investigate complaints based on race, color or national origin.
A violation is a misdemeanor. The penalty has been reduced to not more than $100, and incarceration for up to 20 days for first offenders (local law enforcement is required to contact federal officials to verify immigration status during incarceration).
Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order requiring additional law enforcement training to develop practices and protocols for implementation without racial profiling.
These are difficult and emerging issues, and this is very controversial public policy. At the end of the day, though, the folks who wear the badges are not the same people who make the laws -- they enforce the laws. The nation and the world are watching closely what happens in Arizona, as are Minnesota's peace officers and members of the law enforcement and immigrant communities.
Rich Stanek is the Hennepin County sheriff.