MALDEF Calls on Bush Administration to Suspend Local Law Enforcement of Immigration Laws

Los Angeles.– Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, called on Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to suspend local law enforcement of immigration laws in the wake of the disturbing treatment of a Latina immigrant placed in a holding cell for 4 days without food, water or bathroom facilities in Arkansas. 

The incident occurred in Washington County, Arkansas, a county with which the federal government recently entered into an agreement to enforce federal immigration laws. MALDEF, in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, also demanded a Department of Justice investigation into the incident. 

“Rather than making our communities safer, local law enforcement efforts to enforce federal immigration laws make us less secure,” stated MALDEF President & General Counsel John Trasviña. MALDEF’s letter discusses the alarming case of Ms. Adriana Torres-Flores, who was held without food, water or bathroom facilities for four days in a nine foot by ten foot holding cell.

Her calls for help went unheard because her jailer had left early for the weekend because of a snow storm. The County Sheriff’s office has not issued any formal written findings regarding this matter and apparently considers the matter closed for purposes of further investigation. 

The incident, while perhaps the most serious violation to date of basic civil rights and human dignity, is not the only one resulting from untrained and /or unsupervised local law enforcement officials acting in jurisdictions that have authority to enforce immigration law.
MALDEF has also received numerous reports that local law enforcement in Arkansas and other states stopped individuals for minor traffic offenses in order to check their immigration status. 

MALDEF seeks an investigation of whether the incidents violate the Department of Justice’s own Racial Profiling Guidelines or conflict with the Department of Homeland Security’s assurances that local officers acting with federal authority cannot “randomly ask for a person’s immigration status” but “may use their authority when dealing with someone suspected of a state crime that is more than a traffic offense.”

Separately, MALDEF will ask the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to raise these matters with Secretary Chertoff at an oversight hearing scheduled for Wednesday, April 2.

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