New Orleans police still lack revised policy on dealing with immigration issues

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The New Orleans Police Department has not met its year-end goal of finalizing a highly controversial policy on immigration violations, a department spokesman said this week.

The policy came under scrutiny this year because it appears to require police to cooperate with federal agencies in immigration enforcement efforts, which do not typically fall under the purview of local police departments. The Police Department was revealed to be part of a national enforcement effort that federal officials call a narrowly focused strategy targeting criminal aliens, but which one local immigrant advocacy group has alleged is based on racial profiling.

Policy 428 in the NOPD manual was released as part of a package of 200 policy revisions completed in June 2013, months after a federal consent decree was approved in U.S. District Court. The policy, in part, follows a provision from the federal consent decree enacted last year. The consent decree prohibits officers from taking police actions based on perceived or actual immigration status. However, the immigration policy goes on to say that police department employees are required to cooperate with federal and state officials on immigration enforcement.

Last summer, the federal monitor overseeing the consent decree released a quarterly report which briefly addressed the policy. The report said that a citizen group had alleged that “NOPD was inappropriately involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their unrelated law-enforcement practices.”

NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said in September that the department had submitted a new set of immigration guidelines to the monitor for review and he anticipated that a reworked policy would be approved by the end of this year.

However, with the end of the year upon us, it appears that the situation is unchanged. NOPD spokesman Officer Frank Robertson told The Lens this week that the department is still waiting to hear from the monitor on its draft policy. Robertson declined to provide the draft policy to The Lens or describe how it differs from the one in effect. Because the consent decree prohibits members of the monitoring team to provide statements to the media without approval for the Department of Justice and the city, lead monitor Jonathan Aronie declined comment.

“The fact that the immigration policy has not moved sends the message that community voices and concerns don’t matter,” said Yihong “Julie” Mao, staff attorney for the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. “We hope that the city and NOPD will do more in the coming year to sit down and work with community members to create policies that truly protect and serve all.”

Mao’s group is particularly concerned with the part of the policy requiring the city to cooperate with federal immigration officials because of the NOPD’s involvement in a much-criticized immigration enforcement initiative.

Gamble confirmed in September that the Police Department was cooperating with federal agents in an enforcement effort called the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative, implemented in 2012 in New Orleans and elsewhere. The stated mission of the initiative is limited in scope. In a written statement from later that month, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox described it as a “national strategy” that “focuses ICE’s limited enforcement resources on identifying, arresting and removing at-large criminal aliens who pose a risk to community safety.”

“ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately,” Cox wrote.

But a 2013 report on the initiative by the Workers’ Center for Racial Justice claimed otherwise. The report said that local law enforcement agencies and federal agents were stopping and detaining large numbers of people without serious criminal records based purely on their apparent ethnicities.

“ICE squads are conducting indiscriminate raids at apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, Bible study groups, and parks — often working with local law enforcement — based purely on racial profiling,” the report said. It called the initiative a “stop and frisk” program for immigration enforcement.

In a phone interview this week, Cox disputed the group’s characterization of the initiative, saying that the NOPD is not involved in regular immigration actions, which are enforced under federal civil code. He said local police enforce criminal law. In cases where the police arrest someone for a crime, and that person is believed to be in the country illegally, ICE can issue a “detainer request,” for him to be held until he can be brought into federal custody.

The city’s other major law enforcement agency, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, announced last year that it would no longer honor the requests except in cases where the person has been charged with an extremely serious crime such as murder, aggravated rape or armed robbery.

Cox said ICE has not been consulted on the draft policy under review.

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