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Wrong fix for the INS.

Byline: The Register-Guard

A new Bush administration proposal to deputize state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws is an astonishingly bad idea that should be buried in a deep hole and left there to decay into nothingness.

In yet another example of the administration using the Sept. 11 attacks to forward a broad and longstanding conservative agenda, the Justice Department is considering issuing a legal opinion that would permit localities to become part of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The specter of what essentially would be a national police force should alarm most thinking Americans. But another, more immediate problem with the idea is that it would widen an already problematic gap between police and immigrant communities.

State and local law enforcement officials in communities across the nation can already attest to the difficulty of persuading immigrants, both legal and illegal, to work with police. Although their fears are usually ungrounded, undocumented immigrants are often reluctant to contact police when they are victims of crimes for fear that they will be reported to the INS and deported.

The Justice Department has tried this approach before. A 1996 law authorized the attorney general to enter into agreements with states and local governments, permitting them to enforce the immigration laws on a routine basis. It's revealing that no state has yet entered into a formal agreement with the INS to do so, and federal immigration officials haven't even bothered to draft rules for joint operations. Many local police departments, including the city of Eugene's, have policies that bar participation with the INS on immigration matters.

There are other obvious, practical reasons for deep-sixing this Justice Department proposal. Local and state law enforcement already are short of the staffing and funding needed to fulfill their basic public safety mission. Police officers are trained in criminal procedures, not the often formidable complexities of immigration law. And one can only imagine the difficulties that the plan would create in the already tangled thicket of racial profiling.

There's no question that the Feds have a tough challenge dealing with immigration issues in the wake of Sept. 11. The immigration service, which has long focused its enforcement effort at the nation's borders, has fewer than 2,000 agents assigned to internal enforcement, but it estimates that more than 8 million people live in the United States illegally. The 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were foreign-born men living in the United States on temporary visas, and at least two were in violation of their visa conditions.

Something clearly needs to be done. But instead of giving the green light to local law enforcement to cooperate with the INS, Attorney General John Ashcroft should instead focus on fixing the astoundingly inept and long-broken immigration service, which repeatedly has proven incapable of effectively managing and reforming itself and remains in a remarkable state of denial about its failings.

There are any number of plans that have been forwarded for restructuring the INS to improve its effectiveness, but the federal government has yet to put any of them into effect. This is where the Bush administration should be focusing its efforts. A national INS police force is not the answer.
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Title Annotation:Government may deputize state, local police; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 7, 2002
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