Hidden in Police Policies Across California: Illegal Guidelines That Can Lead to Immigrant Harassment and False Arrest
This is not Arizona. But when it comes to police policies on immigrants across California, you wouldn’t know it.
The ACLU of California recently discovered a mass-produced policy, purchased by many local law enforcement agencies, including some in cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries, and that contain illegal guidelines allowing officers to discriminate against immigrants. It authorizes local police to detain and arrest people for suspected federal immigration violations based on sweeping factors like English proficiency, “immigration documentation” and even in some cases, race, color or national origin.
The policy sounds a lot like Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 and is currently operating in our own backyards, in cities like Azusa, Blythe, Brisbane, Culver City, Fontana, Fremont, Irwindale, Laguna Beach, Murrieta and Walnut Creek. The police departments purchased the policy from Lexipol, a private vendor of standardized policy language.
The policy instructs police officers that they can rely on how well a person speaks English to arrive at reasonable suspicion that the person entered the country illegally.
As we explain in a letter to Lexipol, the policy violates both California law and the Fourth Amendment. Contrary to the rulings of several courts, the policy suggests that local police may detain someone for the federal crime of “improper entry” if its review of the person’s immigration documents leads them to suspect the person’s presence in the country is unauthorized.
The policy also instructs police officers that they can rely on how well a person speaks English to arrive at reasonable suspicion that the person entered the country illegally. This could make for a lot of suspects – according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, nearly 19% of California’s population has limited English proficiency.
We’ve seen such policies in action before, so we know that they lead to racial profiling and wrongful arrests, compromising core constitutional rights and undermining trust between law enforcement officials and the communities they serve. That’s why the ACLU of California calls on Lexipol, and all the cities in California that have adopted it, to retract and replace its defective policy language. And it’s why we continue to call on lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 54.
SB 54 will ban local police from performing the functions of federal immigration officers and ensure that state and local resources are not used to fuel the federal government’s plans for mass deportations. The Trump administration seeks to convert local law enforcement agents into immigration agents in order to carry out a vast deportation dragnet. The fact that numerous California police departments have policies empowering their officers to make unlawful and discriminatory arrests in the field for immigration offenses -- and to transfer the people they arrest to ICE or CBP custody after doing so -- demonstrates that SB 54 is needed now more than ever.
This tangled-up enforcement system is neither fair nor good for public safety. California lawmakers should pass SB 54 to make clear, once and for all, that the job of state and local law enforcement is not to enforce federal immigration law, but to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians.
And Lexipol should not only strike the illegal language from its policies, it should notify all its clients with purchased policies to do the same.
ACLU of Southern California