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Orlando considers policy to keep cops from asking about immigration status of law-abiding people

By Ryan Gillespie, For Orlando Sentinel, On 20 July 2018, Read Original
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After an uproar last year urging them to do so, Orlando officials are poised to consider a policy next week that would bar police from inquiring about a law-abiding person’s immigration status.

Activists with the Orlando Trust Coalition — a cohort of about 35 social-justice organizations — lobbied city leaders dating back to a meeting in November to pass a policy reassuring undocumented immigrants that reporting crimes wouldn’t lead to deportation or other actions.

The Orlando Police Department already has a bias-free policybanning discrimination, but the City Council is expected on Monday to vote on a resolution expanding upon it, Commissioner Tony Ortiz said.

“More than anything else, we’re experiencing a number of crimes where criminals are getting away,” said Ortiz, who worked as an Orlando police officer for 14 years. “[Criminals] prey upon undocumented people, and the sad reality is undocumented immigrants are so afraid of the system that they’re not participating with our system to find those people and prosecute them.”

Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the proposed policy is exciting for the coalition.

“This is a campaign that has been waged for over a year,” said Mubarak, who helped facilitate the coalition. “This is very exciting for the coalition and the…immigrant families and DACA[Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients.”

The policy would prohibit police officers from asking law-abiding people about their immigration status during investigations and also would apply to crime victims, those who report an incident and witnesses. It also extends to those stopped for non-criminal traffic violations and others who have contact with investigators, the resolution states.

The police department also will consider signing a “U Visa” certification request if somebody is the victim of a qualifying crime and has been helpful in the investigation or prosecution of it, the resolution states. Such undocumented immigrants could petition for the special visa, then a green card and ultimately apply for citizenship.

More than 25 offenses qualify for the visa created by Congress in 2000, including domestic violence, murder, sexual assault and witness tampering.

Since Jan. 1, 2017, OPD has signed 18 of 30 U visa requests it’s received, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal said.

Ortiz was adamant the initiative doesn’t mean Orlando is seeking to become a sanctuary city because it would simply be an expansion of an existing policy.

Typically, sanctuary city policies prevent police from holding people based on immigration status or from volunteering information to federal authorities. The Orlando resolution says the city would comply with federal immigration laws.

“We’re not going to harbor criminals,” Ortiz said. “We don’t have holding facilities within the city of Orlando.”

So-called “Trust” policies and acts have been enacted in various forms in other places around the country.

In Boston, the City Council unanimously passed a Trust Act in 2014 preventing police from detaining immigrants without documentation for federal authorities, The Boston Globe reported.

An act passed under the same name in Illinois last year prohibits local and state police from searching, detaining or arresting somebody solely based on their immigration status or a federal immigration detainer, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Immigration attorney Henry Lim, a former chairman of the city’s Citizens Police Review Board, said the proposed Orlando policy is a “good first step,” and called on Orange County leaders to move forward with a similar policy.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said such action at the county level would come from the sheriff.

“It is important to note that the Orlando Police Department is a department of City Government,” Jacobs said in a statement. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is an independently-elected constitutional office, and therefore, the policy decisions rest entirely with the Sheriff.”

Lim, who isn’t affiliated with the coalition’s efforts, said undocumented immigrants’ fears about reporting criminal acts is a serious problem.

“This policy only helps strengthen the ties between the community and law enforcement,” he said. “There’s more work to be done.”

Since the initial demonstration last November, the coalition has worked with Mayor Buddy Dyer and other city officials on the policy, said Nancy Batista, state director of Mi Famila Vota, a Latino group that advocates for immigration reform and other issues.

“We’ve seen about three or four instances where families have been robbed or have been targeted…because they know they aren’t going to speak up for themselves,” she said. “This is not something they should feel suppressed by.”

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