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L.A. Police Sued Over Immigrant Policy

AP | April 12, 2007
PETER PRENGAMAN

Illegal immigration opponents have sued the Los Angeles Police Department, taking aim at its long-standing policy of ignoring most suspects' immigration status.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court seeks to force officers to inform federal immigration officials when illegal immigrants are arrested on drug charges.

The department prohibits officers from inquiring about the immigration status of suspects, a policy strongly supported by Police Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of unidentified police officers who are afraid to speak out but argue the policy creates a situation where the same illegal immigrants are repeatedly arrested when they could have been deported, lawyer David Klehm said.

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"Everyone I spoke to told me their hands were tied with this policy," Klehm said.

The lawsuit relies on a section of the state's Health and Safety Code that states that in drug cases involving a non-citizen, "the arresting agency shall notify the appropriate agency of the United States having charge of deportation."

Los Angeles police officers do not ask about immigration status while interviewing victims, witnesses and suspects, and do not arrest people based on immigration status.

Officers do involve immigration officials if a suspect is a gang member who has been previously deported or if a suspect is arrested for a felony or multiple misdemeanors.

Bratton has argued that the police department does not have the resources to work as immigration agents.

Klehm, an anti-illegal immigration activist based in Orange County, filed a similar lawsuit against the San Jose Police Department a few weeks ago.

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