In an emerging trend, Costa Mesa leaders agreed Wednesday to clear the way for police officers to enforce federal immigration laws—a move some fear will having a chilling effect in the city’s Latino community.
The City Council voted to negotiate an agreement with federal immigration officials that would allow city police to check some criminal suspects to see if they are in the country illegally, a job now reserved for federal immigration officials.
Costa Mesa would be the first city in the nation to seek permission to enforce immigration law, though several counties—including Orange and Los Angeles—have agreements or plan to seek accords with the federal government to check suspects’ immigration status.
Officials in Costa Mesa said they would only check the status of people arrested on suspicion of felonies or criminal gang activity.
Still, the vote reverberated in the city’s Latino community, where residents worried that the measure would lead to widespread deportations or random arrests and that it runs contrary to the Costa Mesa’s past outreach efforts.
“We are very concerned. This is an opportunity for an abuse of authority,” said Costa Mesa resident Paty Madueño, a community leader for the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, an umbrella group of churches that works with residents. “This could create a lot of fear, even for me. Should I carry my papers with me all the time?”
Hilda Quinones, 37, a mother of four, said she has legal immigration status but is still afraid. She could be confused with an undocumented immigrant, she worries.
“It’s unfair to people who live in this city,” she said. “This situation exists everywhere. Why pick on the undocumented immigrants here?”
Other shoppers agreed.
“We have been made to feel very afraid by what’s going on,” said Ignacia Estrada, who came to the store with her adult daughter. “In my neighborhood, there’s talk about not opening the door to police. What’s the point? The police aren’t on our side.”