Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Law enforcement officials tell DU they’re positive on “positive ID”

Local law enforcement officials say policing in Colorado and around the country is made more challenging by the lack of a functioning immigration policy, tamper-proof identification and sufficient staffing.

And, in a discussion with DU’s Strategic Issues Program panel, the officials agreed that much of what ails the United States’ immigration policy is out of state control. The federal government will have to step in if the problems are going to be dealt with effectively, they said.

Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and Brenda Leffler, director of the Colorado State Patrol homeland security branch, joined Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan, Arapahoe County Sheriff J. Grayson Robinson, and Joe Greene, director of the Office of Policy and Planning at Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the March 26 panel discussion.

“States cannot do much to mitigate the consequences of poor federal policy and practice,” Weir said.

Among the challenges facing law enforcement officers is determining identity and legal status, Weir said. State identification cards and driver’s licenses don’t establish legal residency status, and documents can be forged, he said. And, officers making contact with someone always have to be careful of ethnic profiling, he said.

“There’s no easy discernable way to ascertain a person’s immigration status,” Brennan said.

Some form of national identification card that incorporated biometrics, such as a fingerprint, would help, he said.

Before problems with immigration can be solved, the nation’s borders must be secured by the federal government, Robinson said. Illegal immigrants who do commit crimes while in the country cost local law enforcement a lot of money; Robinson said he may sue the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pay for the care of illegal immigrants in his jail.

Some of the problems arise simply because immigration policy in the country has gone without attention for so long, Greene said. Rules date back to the 1950s, and while they’ve been added to over the years, the entire policy needs an overhaul. Unfortunately, he said, the country has a lot of issues competing for lawmakers’ efforts.

“The economy has our attention, but immigration cuts to our soul,” he said. “There are only a limited number of things that law enforcement can do to address immigration.”

The nonpartisan SIP panel is made up of scholars and business, social and political experts who expect to hear from all sides of the immigration issue this spring, then craft a framework for immigration reform that will be presented in early December.

The next panel meeting is scheduled for April 16, when panelists will hear from immigration reform advocates Julien Ross, director of the Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition, and former congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo.

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