Tuesday, May 22, 2007
On this day:

Huntsville Times: Influx of illegals puts police in bind

The federal government's outright refusal to enforce the immigration laws we already have has led to enormous strains on local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including here in Huntsville. The city's public safety director said last week that "the undocumented illegal alien poses the most serious problem to law enforcement today."

According to the Huntsville Times:

Rex Reynolds, Huntsville's public safety director, said Friday that the influx of illegal immigrants into the city is taxing law enforcement's ability to fight crimes they commit and provide services to them. ...

"We're in a catch-up mode," he said.

On one hand, federal laws and local jail capacities handcuff local police in deporting illegal immigrants. On the other hand, illegal Hispanic immigrants are hesitant to report when they are victims of crime because they're afraid they will be deported.

Language, cultural and trust barriers often come between police and Hispanics, Reynolds said.

Officers have trouble taking statements from or interviewing Hispanic suspects, witnesses or victims who don't speak English, Reynolds said.

But the Huntsville Police Department is trying to break through that barrier, with community relations officers attending Hispanic activities, providing Spanish translations of forms and officers learning at least basic commands in Spanish. ...

A turning point for Huntsville police was the 2005 shooting death of officer Daniel Golden in a grocery store parking lot. An illegal Hispanic immigrant was arrested and charged with Golden's death.

Reynolds said many Huntsville officers were angry immediately after the shooting. He ordered officers not to retaliate against Hispanics, but a few weeks later he noticed that the arrests of and citations issued to Hispanics had risen. The city judge told Reynolds that all of the cases were legitimate.

Reynolds later contacted the federal Homeland Security Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, about giving Huntsville police the authority to enforce immigration laws.

A 1996 immigration law passed by Congress allows local or state law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws.

But, Reynolds said, he and Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning could not sign an agreement with ICE giving the police that authority because there was not enough jail space to house illegal immigrants.

Reynolds said the police don't have the means or the authority to conduct mass deportations. An illegal immigrant whom the police want to deport has to be taken to a jail in Gadsden, which takes police off the streets here, Reynolds said.

ICE has assigned two officers to Huntsville full time, which has helped police, Reynolds said.

Because there are so many illegal immigrants in the area and police resources are so stretched, the department requests deportation only for illegal immigrants involved in gangs, drug trafficking, violent crimes or violent acts against an officer, Reynolds said.

The department averages three to four deportation requests a month, he said.