Miami Police Chief John Timoney told South Florida immigrant-rights advocates Friday that his officers are under orders not to ask foreign nationals about their immigration status, reports the Miami Herald. The exception would be if the immigrant is arrested because of a crime. Then, officers are required to notify the immigration authorities. ”We don’t enforce immigration laws,”said Timoney, an Irish immigrant himself, to applause from the approximately 50 activists attending. He vowed to investigate any Miami officer accused of stopping a person on the street for the sole purpose of demanding immigration papers.
The meeting came in response to fears in South Florida immigrant communities about the role of local police in recent operations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency says it periodically requests a local police presence as backup in case an operation turns violent. Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for ICE, said, “We defer to the local agency to determine how they will operate. We always want to have a cooperative relationship with our state and local counterparts and often work closely with state and local agencies, in large part because we have a shared public safety mission.” Timoney agreed with many activists that fear of police enforcement of immigration law discouraged undocumented immigrants from calling police if they become victims of a crime.