Policing Immigrants

Californians force enforcement


Since 1979 the city of Los Angeles has had an official policy of not troubling its cops with the enforcement of federal immigration law. Supporters of "Special Order 40," as the rule is known, explain that it makes it a lot easier to police immigrant communities effectively: People are more willing to talk to cops about local crimes if they aren't afraid they'll be deported after they step forward.

That policy has long angered anti-immigration forces, and now two groups have filed separate lawsuits to overturn the order. The first suit, filed in California Superior Court by the conservative group Judicial Watch last April, charges that the policy violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes federal statutes as "the supreme law of the land," as well as a 1996 federal law that says state and local governments may not stop people from informing the feds about someone's citizenship status. At press time, the case was scheduled for trial in late May.

The second suit, filed last month by Santa Ana attorney Dave Klehm, is supported by the Federal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Coalition. It attacks the "don't ask" policy on narrower grounds. An obscure California health and safety statute seems to command that all illegal immigrants arrested for drug offenses be turned over to the feds. It makes a kind of sense: If you're popped for one victimless crime, why not be investigated for another one?