Local police can enforce laws on immigration

By Chipp Reid, Danbury News-Times, September 9, 2005

DANBURY Earlier this year, Mayor Mark Boughton wanted the federal government to deputize state police officers so they could enforce immigration laws.

As it turns out, the extra authority might not have been needed.

A recently unearthed U.S. Justice Department memo says state and local cops can make arrests after traffic stops if they find civil immigration violations, such as someone overstaying a visa.

No specific federal authority is needed for local officers to make such arrests, according to the 2002 memo, which came to light in a recent court case.

Danbury officials said the memo will have little impact on law enforcement in a city that has seen a sizable increase in South American immigrants in recent years.

At the same time, however, Danbury officials confirmed city police officers are checking the immigration status of some drivers and making some arrests on immigration charges.

They complained, however, they receive little help from the federal government in prosecuting the cases....

The Associated Press reported Thursday the 2002 memo was issued by then-Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft and his staff. It overturned a 1996 letter from Justice Department lawyers that said state and local police could enforce only criminal immigration violations, such as sneaking across a border.

The memo came to light recently when a coalition of civil rights and immigrants' rights groups sued the Justice Department to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.

The American Civil Liberties Union, among others, has criticized the memo. The ACLU said the memo stretched the definition of the role of local police so far that it could be used to justify giving them the right to enforce the U.S. tax code, environmental rules and other federal laws....

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