Amid a national debate over whether local police should help enforce immigration rules, a lawsuit is charging San Jose and Police Chief Rob Davis with failing to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authoritiesa practice that the suit alleges is itself against the law.
The suit, filed by an Orange County attorney and activist, challenges a practice that San Jose and many other police departments openly acknowledge.
If police were to pursue the immigration status of suspects, victims and witnesses, Davis has said, they would violate the trust of immigrant communities that they need to do their jobs.
But attorney David Klehm echoes the argument of federal officials who have asked police departments around the country to take a more active stance: Illegal immigrants who are arrested ought to be deported, rather than being “recycled” through the U.S. criminal justice system.
Klehm’s suit, filed on behalf of Roberta Allen and Carol Joyal of San Jose, comes at a critical time.
At least five Bay Area citiesSan Jose, East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Richmond and San Rafaelhave passed city resolutions in recent months denouncing federal sweeps to round up illegal immigrants in Northern California.
In those raids, agents are targeting immigrants who have separate criminal convictions in order to deport them, but undocumented immigrants without criminal records have also been caught in the effort.
A chorus of government officials, police chiefs and religious leaders have condemned the sweeps and restated that they will refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that has conducted the sweeps.
But other officials have offered at least some level of assistance, helping to screen immigrants with criminal convictions.
“Our department remains committed to our longstanding policy that we do not arrest people based solely upon their immigration status,” Davis said in February, when the San Jose City Council was considering a resolution on the ICE raids. “We need to maintain the cooperation and communication we have with San Jose’s many immigrant communities in order to do our jobs effectively.”
Klehm first drew public notice on the immigration issue last year after he filed suit in Kern County on behalf of a business owner accusing a competitor of unfair business practice by allegedly hiring illegal immigrants. That lawsuit is pending.
In the wake of that suit, Klehm said, police officers called his attention to a state law that requires police who are making arrests for certain drug-related offenses to report any suspicion about citizenship status to federal authorities.
But too often, the officers complained, they are blocked from filing such reports.
In a telephone interview arranged by Klehm, one unidentified San Jose police officer said “the reality is we’re not allowed to call immigration.”