November 15, 2017
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Police Department is considering changing a 40-year-old policy that forbids officers from asking residents about their immigration status. The department is drafting recommendations and will submit them to the L.A. Police Commission later this year.
Since 1979, the policy of LAPD has been that “undocumented alien status in itself is not a matter for police action.” Known as Special Order 40, the policy prohibits police from asking residents about their immigration status.
Neither Police Chief Charlie Beck’s office or the Los Angeles Police Commission responded to interview requests for why the policy is coming under review at this particular time. Immigrant rights advocates believe the department is seeking to update the policy because of potential financial pressure from the White House.
“…the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act restricts taxpayer grant money to cities that prevent their police from turning over dangerous criminal aliens to federal authorities,” President Donald Trump said on June 29.
“Once Trump was elected and the talk began to turn toward sanctuary cities, I think officials at the police department started thinking about ways of updating the policy so they wouldn’t be overtaken by events happening around them,” said Tessie Borden, an immigration rights activist and a member of Indivisible Highland Park.
A community forum last month brought together immigrants rights advocates, civil rights lawyers and members of the public who worry that the policy update will allow for more cooperation between LAPD and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The forum’s organizers fear police cooperation with ICE or the Department of Homeland Security will result in more deportations.
Immigrants rights advocates, like Borden and Carlos Amador, an organizing director at the California Immigrant Policy Center and one of the organizers of the community forum, agree that the policy needs updating, but not in the ways currently under consideration. Amador said what’s needed in the update is clear language that LAPD will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities unless required to by law.
Another issue, according to advocates, is that LAPD is not being transparent about the recommendations they’re sending to the Police Commission. They believe the lack of input from the community might make it easier for local law enforcement to work on joint task-forces with federal authorities who’s stated goal is the deportation of undocumented residents.
“We’ve had situations where federal authorities will say, ‘Well, this is a drug task force,’ and yet they end up arresting everyone for immigration violations and no drug arrests,” Borden said. “We want the [update] to more closely reflect the reality on the ground that police officers have to deal with when dealing with a community that’s largely immigrant, mixed status, very often in the same family. They need the community to report crimes, to be witnesses, but if they’re acting as an arm of ICE, these folks aren’t dumb. They’re not going to be willing to cooperate with the police.”
Crime reports are already down in Hispanic communities across the city. At a March press conference, Beck spoke about data compiled by the department that showed a decrease in the reporting of crime. LAPD said that it’s likely due to fear of deportation that’s preventing members of the Hispanic community from reporting when they’re victimized.
The community forum, held in both English and Spanish, aimed to educate residents about police procedure, their rights and encouraged them to stay active in the call that updates to the policy be more public. It was also a venue for community members to share their stories and concerns.
Ricardo Mireles, executive director of Academia Avance, a progressive Charter School in Highland Park, said two of his students, both seniors, were questioned about their place of birth by LAPD as the young men waited for the bus to take them to school-sponsored internships.
He later reached out to Al Labrada, captain of LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division, about the incident and was told it’s a routine question officers are required to ask. Mireles said the question appears to be in violation of Special Order 40 and contradicts the pro-immigrant messaging of the department and, furthermore, that it’s confusing for city residents, most especially his students.