PAINESVILLE, Ohio – The Painesville Police Department implemented a new policy directing police officers to notify federal authorities about certain illegal immigrants.
The policy directs officers to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever a suspected illegal immigrant is charged with a violent crime including domestic violence or if that person is identified as being affiliated with a gang or criminal organization.
It doesn’t stop officers from reporting illegal immigrants “based on circumstances” other than the two specified.
“We can't have people victimizing fellow residents, so any resource we have to combat those things, we will use,” said Chief Anthony Powalie, who said the policy aims to protect the large immigrant community in Painesville.
There is no federal requirement that local police notify immigration officials about suspected illegal immigrants. Powalie said he implemented the policy in mid-April after learning the Lake County Jail leaves the decision up to local communities and because Painesville City Council passed a 2007 ordinance declaring it is not a sanctuary city.
Powalie said he turned to a program that provides model policies for police across the country, and it was reviewed by the city’s law director and city manager.
The policy identifies ways officers can determine if someone is in the country illegally, including an admission, suspected forged immigration documents and lack of English language skills. However, Powalie said officers will not be out searching for illegal immigrants.
“We're not out seeking out individuals,” he said. “That's the job of the federal government.”
While Powalie notes that the department has a policy against racial profiling, critics argued the policy will discourage immigrants from reporting crimes, making the community less safe.
“People are going to be afraid to go to local police and report crime, and this is just ill advised. I think it's a huge mistake,” said local immigration attorney David Leopold.
Leopold said local police officers aren't equipped to identify illegal immigrants and enforce federal immigration laws. He said the policy is written with ambiguous language that could cause problems.
“I think what this is, is a license to racially profile,” Leopold said. “This policy is poorly written; it's wrong on the law and it's wrong for Painesville because it makes the community less safe.”
The policy explains how officers can help victims and witnesses of crimes who are illegal immigrants to receive temporary immigration benefits.
It also said officers will receive immigration policy training, but doesn’t specify who will provide that training.
Click here for the immigration policy.