Monday, June 06, 2005

Virginia chooses not to arrest those with civil immigration violations

According to a Washington Post article, Virginia State Police have decided not to pursue the power for their state and local police officers to arrest people who have mere civil immigration violations.

Violating immigration provisions is just a civil violation, not a crime. Historically, local and state police have no power to arrest people who have mere civil immigration violations, just as they would not generally have power to arrest someone who has other types of civil violations.

Under a 1996 law, state and local police can enter an agreement under which they undergo training and receive the power to arrest immigration violators.

Critics, though, argue that arresting civil immigration violators would undermine the trust that police need to have with immigrants to enforce the laws. There is a danger that immigrants would be afraid to report crimes or cooperate with criminal investigations if they fear that they will be arrested for civil violations of the immigration laws.
"A number of the police we met with realized if they want immigrants to report crimes and be witnesses, they can't be in fear of being arrested," said Deborah Sanders, executive director of the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition
Passing a limited law allowing the police to arrest certain violators caused fear among immigrants:

"It created a huge problem for us when the law was first passed," said Col. Rick Rappoport, police chief in the city of Fairfax. Rumors swept through ethnic communities that anyone lacking proper documents could be picked up, prompting some immigrants to stop dealing with law enforcement authorities. A few even hid at home and hoarded food, police said.

It seems to be bad public policy to threaten immigrants who report crimes or are crime victims with deportation for mere civil violations. Otherwise, immigrants will be targets of crime because the criminals would be more likely to get away with the crime because the victim and witnesses might not be willing to report information to the police.


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