This creepy encounter is an example of what collaboration between the INS and local police looks like. When the two agencies use each other's powers (police aren't supposed to demand immigration papers), the regulations that govern each collapse. For instance, the INS normally can't raid churches and schools, and police can't normally stop people based on their race. By collaborating, they can sidestep the rules.
INS-police collaboration, in fact, sets a dangerous precedent for police behavior, because it legitimizes racial profiling. "Immigration policy is racial profiling. They stop Latinos when they are looking for immigrants. They don't stop whites. When they work together they use the same tactics," says Hollis Pfitsch of Washington Alliance for Immigration and Refugee Justice [WAIRJ].
That's why Lonnie Nelson of Mothers for Police Accountability supports a proposal being considered in the City and County Councils that would declare Seattle an "immigrant safety zone." That would mean police and the INS couldn't collaborate, and city and county resources couldn't be used to enforce immigration policy or to conduct raids.
The federal immigration bill from 1996 made it easier for local police to cooperate with INS officials, even allowing INS officers to be deputized. And in the past six months, there has been an increase in INS-police raids in Washington state. For example, dozens of brush pickers in Aberdeen were deported with the help of INS and local police. And the Nativity House, a Tacoma homeless shelter, was raided earlier this year.
Moreover, WAIRJ and the King County labor council say police and INS collaboration is used to decimate workers' rights. Although undocumented workers have the right to organize in this country, the threat of INS raids has broken up organizing movements in Yakima apple-picking country, and most recently at a construction site in Belltown.
The side effects of INS-police collaboration are also frightening. Having the INS collaborate with the police means that if an illegal immigrant is being beaten by her husband, she won't call the police to get help. Soya Jung of WAIRJ says, "Whenever you have a segment of the population that's afraid of the police, more crime happens and everyone is more vulnerable."
Despite the sob stories, passing the immigrant-safety-zone ordinance will be difficult. There's a certain legitimacy--lefty global economic analysis aside--to the conservative argument made by Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mahehm. He says, "People in the country illegally are violating the law. That's the point of having laws. What other laws are we going to decide we don't approve of?"
Moreover, it's not clear whether the ordinance will really work. Local laws cannot trump federal law on immigration issues. Joan Fitzpatrick, an immigration law professor at the University of Washington, has doubts: "In terms of technically resisting a mandate from Congress, there's not an awful lot that states can do to assert autonomy. Court decisions say states can't regulate immigration."
Of course, states have made attempts to buck some federal immigration laws. When the 1996 legislation said welfare providers couldn't help immigrants, Seattle's DSHS refused to check the immigrant status of their recipients.