Forum seeks input on separating immigration, local enforcement

March 30, 2010

Colorado Springs police hosted a regional conference Tuesday to discuss possible federal guidelines for dealing with illegal immigration at the local level — from routine traffic stops to more serious offenses.

About 40 federal and state law enforcement officers attended the six-hour Police Executive Research Forum at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort Center. The nonprofit agency, which examines and challenges traditional police practices, is looking at the effect immigration has on law enforcement agencies around the country. It has met recently in Raleigh, N.C., Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

Executive Director Chuck Wexler said federal immigration laws shouldn’t be enforced by local law enforcement officers.

“That’s the role of ICE immigration agents,” Wexler said at a news conference after the forum, which was not open to the public.

Wexler said he’ll be taking local officers’ concerns to Washington to help craft policies on immigration. Colorado Springs police Chief Richard Myers said afterward that officers were looking for more guidance from Washington.

“It’s not our job to deal with all the social issues and the political/philosophical aspects, but there needs to be some differentiation between criminal aliens and those who are here undocumented with no other criminal offense,” Myers said.

He said that during the forum, participants discussed illegal immigrants who committed serious crimes in the U.S. and voluntarily agreed to be returned to their home countries.

“Because that circumvented the deportation process, they soon after snuck back into the U.S. and weren’t subject to arrest for doing that because they weren’t felons at that point,” the police chief said.

Washington needs to figure out how to let local officers deal with everyday situations without getting tangled up in federal immigration issues, Wexler said.

“You’ve got some 21-year-old police officer on the street pulling up to a car with a mother and father and three children who doesn’t have a driver’s license and who’s been in the community for 20 years.

“You know, that’s a problem. If they’ve been in an accident, or have been speeding, it’s up to that officer to figure out how to best deal with that. In most cases that will be resolved successfully, but there ought to be a way to deal with this larger population of people who are here but are undocumented.”

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