Absent a comprehensive federal immigration policy, many cities are taking the law into their own hands and, predictably, failing to find definitive answers. Connecticut is a microcosm, with New Haven, Danbury and Hartford each using a different approach. Of the three, the capital city comes closest to having it right.
New Haven's way is to prohibit police officers from inquiring about immigration status. This variation of "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't help law enforcement officials do their job, which is to elicit pertinent information regarding suspected criminal acts.
Indeed, the New Haven policy might encourage Washington to enact a law penalizing communities that forbid police from asking questions about a suspect's legal status.
The Pentagon's spineless "don't ask, don't tell" answer to the military's discrimination against gays is a cruel hoax. So is ordering New Haven officers not to ask whether a suspect entered the United States legally.
Danbury is considering the other extreme by deputizing police to enforce federal immigration laws. Local law enforcement agencies do their best work enforcing local laws. Surely Danbury's men and women who wear badges have more useful things to do than serve as surrogates of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
In Hartford, police do not routinely search for those suspected of being illegal immigrants. But status becomes relevant in investigating someone suspected of a violent crime. That was the case on Nov. 2 when police cooperated with federal ICE agents in searching for a shooting suspect in the Parkville section of the city.
As it turned out, ICE forces overreacted by arresting 21 alleged illegal immigrants - while the prime suspect remains at large. Those caught in the sweep should be released unless they are suspected of committing crimes. They were not the targets of Hartford police or federal agents. Putting them behind bars because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time is unjust.
Police Chief Daryl Roberts says his department will continue to cooperate with ICE agents in the investigation of this shooting. That's as it should be, but only in individual cases involving violent crimes.
Fighting illegal immigration is beyond the scope of local governments.
There are an estimated 12 million so-called undocumented aliens, most of them hard-working and with clean records. Many have lived in the United States for decades.
Congress has failed to set a policy that clarifies their status, although most lawmakers know that rounding up and deporting them (millions with American-born children) would be impossible, never mind inhumane.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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