Lawsuit on LA police policy on immigrants tossed
LOS ANGELES ” A judge on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit that challenged a long-standing policy under which Los Angeles police officers do not inquire about the immigration status of most suspects or other people they encounter.
Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled that Special Order 40 does not conflict with federal or California law.
The policy is intended to reduce fear of police in immigrant communities, and it is supported by Police Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. California has more illegal immigrants than any other state.
Special Order 40 dates to 1979. It has most recently been a lightning rod in the issue of crime and illegal immigrants since the killing of a local high school football star, allegedly by a reputed gang member who is an illegal immigrant and had just been released from jail.
The lawsuit filed in April 2007 sought to force officers to inform federal immigration officials when illegal immigrants are arrested on drug charges.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of unidentified police officers who were said to be afraid to speak out but argue that the policy creates a situation in which the same illegal immigrants are repeatedly arrested when they could have been deported.
In ruling, the judge granted motions for summary judgment in favor of the Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union, which intervened in the case.
Hector Villagra, an ACLU attorney, said the decision affirmed that the federal government, not local law enforcement, is responsible for carrying out immigration law.
Had Special Order 40 been thrown out, Villagra said, “They are asking for carte blanche to engage in racial profiling.”
The lawsuit relied on a section of California’s Health and Safety Code that states that in drug cases involving a non-citizen, “the arresting agency shall notify the appropriate agency of the United States having charge of deportation.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Paul Orfanedes said he was disappointed in Treu’s ruling and would consider an appeal.
Orfanedes said there are 800,000 law enforcers in the U.S., and that in Los Angeles and elsewhere they could be effective eyes for government in terms of immigration.
“They are being gagged. It’s don’t ask, don’t tell as regards to legal status,” Orfanedes said.
Los Angeles police officers do not ask about immigration status while interviewing victims, witnesses and suspects, and do not arrest people based on immigration status. Officers do involve immigration officials if a suspect is a gang member who has been previously deported or if a suspect is arrested for a felony or multiple misdemeanors.
In the Los Angeles County jails, the Sheriff’s Department is increasing efforts to weed out illegal immigrants. The Sheriff’s Department began interviewing inmates at the beginning of 2006. More than 10,000 inmates at the jail have been referred to federal authorities for possible deportation.