Law Enforcement Says “No” to SAFE Act

October 1, 2013

Gebe Martinez, [email protected], 703-731-9505

Law Enforcement Groups and Top Officers Tell Congress “No” to SAFE Act

WASHINGTON, DC — In a letter they sent to Congress today, law enforcement officials from across the country told legislators to reject the SAFE Act because it would undermine the core mission of local police to maintain community safety and would waste limited law enforcement resources.

“The SAFE Act would radically alter the nature of federal immigration enforcement by vesting enforcement decisions in the hands of state and local law enforcement officials where it does not belong. Immigration is a solely federal policy and it demands a national solution,” the letter stated.

The letter to congressional leaders was signed by the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association (MCCA), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and law enforcement officials from Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

During a press teleconference call, law enforcement community leaders emphasized that immigration law and its enforcement are federal matters that should not be carried out by state and local police agencies. On the call were Chief Richard S. Biehl, Dayton, OH, Police Department; Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City, UT, Police Department; Chief Jeffrey W. Halstead, Ft. Worth, TX, Police Department; and District Attorney George Gascón, City and County of San Francisco, CA, and former police chief in Mesa, AZ, and San Francisco. The press conference was moderated by National Immigration Law Center (NILC) Executive Director Marielena Hincapié.

“The SAFE Act puts local law enforcement squarely in the middle of immigration enforcement, driving a wedge between our police officers throughout the nation and the communities they serve. Our interest should always be criminal behavior, not status or civil enforcement practices,” Burbank said. He also warned that the SAFE Act would lead to bias because anyone who “acts or speaks differently is going to be asked (about immigration status) and that should not be the purpose of local law enforcement.”

Gascón noted the SAFE Act also would lead to an uneven enforcement of immigration policies and increase the risk of civil liability for local police departments.

“The SAFE Act decentralizes control of our immigration laws and cedes decision-making authority to local jurisdictions. This will result in a patchwork of different regulations that will invariably lead to the unequal application of immigration laws and due process protections,” Gascón said. ”Additionally, this massive increase of criminalization, detention, and deportation of immigrants would divert law enforcement priorities and resources from fighting violent and serious crime.”

Another key concern with the House bill is that it would make an officer’s job more dangerous by cluttering the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database with unverified, civil immigration–related information.

Halstead, the Ft. Worth police chief, said community leaders oppose the SAFE Act, because it would turn officers away from crime-solving and into immigration enforcers, threatening decades of successful neighborhood programs and trust between officers and residents.

“We rely on citizens input in order to gain information on possible suspects and possible witnesses,” Halstead said. “If we have this type of act come to us and local police start performing federal immigration enforcement, we are going to see those community relationships erode and possibly eliminated.”

Biehl underscored the point that underfunded police agencies do not have the capacity to engage in immigration enforcement, and their current public safety mission would be compromised by the SAFE Act.

“There is not the time, resources, or expertise for law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement,” Biehl said. “It would give us an impossible mission and possibly cause us to compromise our public safety mission.”

“When people, regardless of immigration or socioeconomic status, feel enough trust in local law enforcement to come forward as victims of or witnesses to crime, our communities are a whole lot safer,” said Hincapié. “Members of Congress should listen to those charged with maintaining public safety and relegate this ill-conceived bill to the ideological waste bin. Failing to do so could threaten everyone’s safety.”


# # #