Last month, the Alabama Department of Public Safety became the nation’s second police agency authorized to enforce federal immigration laws, the Los Angeles Times reports. With more than 8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and 5,500 federal agents available for enforcement in interior areas, advocates of cracking down see more than 600,000 state and local officers as a “force multiplier” that could turn the tide.
In Congress, a bill known as the CLEAR Act would transform an experiment with local enforcement of immigration laws into a crusade resembling the war on drugs. The bill would set up a system of financial penalties and incentives – including seizure of illegal immigrants’ property – to induce cities and states to take on immigration enforcement.
Immigrant advocates and civil rights groups warn that such a law could encourage abuses against those who merely look or sound foreign. Some police agencies would welcome more immigration expertise, but local law enforcement is divided. The California Police Chiefs Assn. opposes CLEAR, which stands for Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal, concerned that officers would lose the trust of immigrant communities. The National Sheriffs Association favors it.
Besides Alabama, Florida’s state police has been the only other participant in the small-scale program run by the federal government for state and local police. At the Los Angeles Police Department, spokeswoman Sandra Escalante said the department had no plans to become involved in immigration enforcement.