When ICE agents interact with undocumented immigrants, they often represent themselves as police officers, Governing reports. “We have repeatedly seen ICE go to people’s homes and coerce people to authorize entry under the mistaken belief that [the agents] are police,” says Michael Kaufman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “It undermines public safety in these communities if people feel like they might be getting tricked.” California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that establishes a difference between California police officers and federal immigration agents. The bill’s fact sheet say federal agents are “not allowed to refer to themselves as a police officer under California State Law.” Legal experts say neither California nor any other state, city or county has the authority to enforce such a law.
The limitations of the new law reflect challenges for state and local governments trying to resist federal immigration efforts, especially as cities have dealt with their own controversies regarding this ICE practice. In March, city officials in Hartford, Ct., sharply rebuked ICE agents for wearing uniforms that only said ‘POLICE’ while trying to lure a woman to a public safety building so they could detain her. The Southern Poverty Law Center accused ICE of deceiving Atlanta residents by stating they were police officers searching for a criminal and for sometimes showing them photos of a random black man they said was their suspect. ICE representatives say it’s necessary for the safety of the officers to be able to identify as police. “The word ‘police’ is a universally recognized symbol of law enforcement in most cultures, an important distinction given that many of the individuals with whom ICE interacts are not native English speakers,” said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. “Given the inherently dangerous nature of ICE officers’ work, their ability to quickly establish their identity as enforcement personnel could potentially mean the difference between life and death.”