(CNSNews.com) - The city council of Hartford, Conn., has unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits police and city employees from asking people about their immigration status.
The ordinance would bar police from arresting or detaining any person on the sole grounds that immigration authorities had issued an administrative warrant for them.
Councilman Luis Cotto, who introduced the ordinance, said it was needed so that illegal immigrants would be willing to cooperate with police in criminal investigations without fear of deportation.
At a public hearing Monday before the vote, no one spoke out against the ordinance, but anti-illegal immigration groups see problems with the plan.
Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that police already “routinely ignore obvious violations of the law” in the cases of illegal immigrants being used as witnesses or sources, and therefore an official restriction is unnecessary.
“Everybody knows the game,” said Mehlman. “There’s no reason why you need to offer blanket assurances. Discretion in police work is something that is routinely part of what cops do every single day, and it should be applied in this situation also.”
Mehlman said that even though immigration enforcement is the job of federal immigration authorities, the police have an “obligation to act” if somebody who is violating a federal law “falls into their laps.”
“It is ... their responsibility to act when they come across somebody who is violating the law of some other jurisdiction, to assist in making sure that person is brought to the attention of the proper authorities,” he told CNSNews.com.
Supporters of the ordinance stressed the necessity of a positive, cooperative relationship between police and victims or witnesses.
Kara Hart, an attorney with the Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said that her organization represents hundreds of victims of domestic violence every year and she sees the ordinance as “a really positive development for public safety.”
“I think that the fact that there’s a city ordinance in place that makes it clear that ... services will be available regardless of the victim’s status also sends an important message to the community that if you need police to protect your safety, you should feel safe in reaching out,” she told CNSNews.com.
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez must sign the ordinance for it to become law.
The Associated Press reported that the mayor has indicated that he believes an order issued in March by Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts is adequate to keep Hartford police from making immigration arrests unless there is also a criminal investigation. That order was issued in March.
If the ordinance is passed, Hartford will join the ranks of several other cities that have increasingly become harbor cities for illegal immigrants.
Starting in July 2007, New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University, began offering ID cards to all residents, including between 10,000-20,000 illegal immigrants. The measure was passed to allow illegal aliens to open bank accounts.
San Francisco also began issuing ID cards to residents in 2007.
Mehlman, meanwhile, warned against releasing illegal immigrants from custody back to the “streets.”
“I want to know what Mr. Cotta will say to the family of someone in Hartford, Connecticut after an illegal alien, who had been in police custody, is back on the streets and goes out and commits some heinous crime,” said Mehlman. “If he can look them in the eye and explain to them: ‘We wanted to make illegal immigrants feel comfortable.’”