Gov. Tim Pawlenty has asked Minneapolis and St. Paul to change their ordinances to allow police officers more latitude to inquire about immigration status.
“Elevating political correctness over homeland security concerns is not a good plan,” Pawlenty said Tuesday in a phone interview from New York City, where he is attending the Republican National Convention.
Both cities have ordinances that generally bar police from asking about immigration status unless it relates to illegal activity. Minneapolis adopted the ordinance in 2003; St. Paul’s was approved earlier this year.
Pawlenty said he tried to be respectful and constructive in the letters, offering a “reasonable suggestion.” He said he would like the ordinances repealed, but “at the very least, they should allow the question when there’s a homeland security concern. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
If the cities refuse, the governor said, “We’ll have to consider other options.” A spokesman later said the governor is looking at potential changes in state law giving the police broader authority to ask about immigration status.
Police chiefs in both cities were not enthusiastic about changing the ordinances; neither were elected leaders or community members.
Pawlenty, going back to his 2002 campaign, pushed for giving law enforcement more opportunities to stop immigrants. What is yet unknown is whether the state’s two largest cities and the governor can resolve their differences or are headed for a political clash. Both cities are dominated by DFLers.
Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus said he will discuss the letter with City Council leaders, but his initial reaction was to say “I’m not in favor of asking people for green cards,” calling it a form of racial profiling.
“It just doesn’t sit right with me,” McManus said.
Dan Niziolek, Minneapolis City Council Public Safety Committee chairman, said: “My first question is where did it come from? Why now rather than when we passed it?”
Pawlenty said he became disturbed by a recent incident in North Carolina in which authorities detained a man solely on immigration violations after a police officer saw him filming financial institutions. Terrorism charges are now being considered against him.
Pawlenty called the North Carolina case “Exhibit A” of the benefits of broader powers.
McManus said if somebody is breaking the law and arrested, determining the person’s identification will lead the officer to find out the immigration status. He said neither Dayton, Ohio, where he was chief, nor Washington, D.C., where he was assistant chief, allowed inquiries about status for no reason.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington hadn’t seen Pawlenty’s letter, but heard the governor had expressed concerns on the issue at a meeting of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. He said an internal review of St. Paul’s law, passed in May, showed that the language was appropriate.
“We believe our law was crafted broadly enough that it allows us to work with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and conduct investigations where there is a criminal violation,” Harrington said.
He is concerned that Pawlenty’s letter, if it leads to rescinding the law, could have a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to come forward as crime victims.
“If I’m there on a domestic [call] and you’re the victim, I can’t ask to see your green card just because you’re the victim of a crime,” Harrington said. “Recently, we had a rape victim who was hesitant to make a report because of her immigration status. If you make a report and are a crime victim, that shouldn’t mean the cop is going to immediately begin asking questions about your immigration status.
“Is that really relevant to whether you’ve been raped, beaten or robbed?”
Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow said he will respond to Pawlenty’s Aug. 24 letter in writing by saying, “We intend to respond and state that we would be more than happy to sit down with the governor and his staff and the police chief and discuss his concerns.”
But Ostrow said that doesn’t mean the city is interested in changing the ordinance. “Cities across the country have looked at this and it certainly is not the role of local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. That I think is quite clear,” Ostrow said.
St. Paul Deputy Mayor Dennis Flaherty said the ordinance wasn’t designed to “hamper or impair our officers’ ability to stop criminal suspects.”
He said St. Paul City Attorney Manuel Cervantes will do an analysis of the law to make sure it has no unintended loopholes that hinder law enforcement.
“It’s fair to say if our law could be improved upon; there will be a willingness to make necessary amendments,” Flaherty said.
In his gubernatorial campaign, Pawlenty raised concerns about immigrants, frequently and controversially touting support for marking foreign visitors’ visa expiration dates on their drivers’ licenses. The state puts “status check” on the licenses of immigrants.
Minneapolis City Council Member Paul Zerby, a sponsor of the ordinance and a lawyer, said it was carefully crafted and doesn’t need to be changed.
For law enforcement to work, “you really have to be able to work with members of the community and they have to have confidence that they can approach the police with information and they’re not going to jeopardize their immigration status,” Zerby said.
Zerby, whose district includes a substantial immigrant population on the West Bank, said it’s counterproductive to make immigrants afraid of law enforcement. “If you’re going to solve these crimes, you’ve got to have a working relationship with the community and that includes immigrants,” he said.
Although city leaders disagree, Pawlenty said he believes the ordinance may violate federal law. “The idea that local units of government are going to choose to ignore a federal law is dangerous precedent,” he said.
Pawlenty also said, “Why would you require law enforcement to give up one of its tools for detaining and questioning people engaged in behavior that may be a security concern?”
Some members of the immigrant community were disapproving.
Juan Linares, a board member with the Latino Economic Development Center in Minneapolis, said the Police Department has come a long way to improve relationships with the community and he would be very disappointed if the city changed the ordinance.
“I don’t think Pawlenty understands the magnitude or repercussions that it will create,” he said. “Right now police are being scrutinized for profiling. Now can you imagine?”