Kansas City’s immigrant communities have a strong ally that many may not suspect — the largest of our area police departments.
The harsh rhetoric last week from the White House, coupled with tough-sounding immigration enforcement policies, did not faze local law enforcement. The response here has been reasoned and rational.
Ask about policies that guide interactions between police officers and the metropolitan area’s immigrant neighborhoods, and the replies across multiple cities follow a pattern: Nothing has changed. This is not a question that needs to be vetted or sent up the chain of command.
In fact, it’s more accurate to say that the largest police departments in the metropolitan area want to highlight their long-held convictions and existing policies, precisely because of the current national climate of fear ignited by President Donald Trump.
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No new guidance regarding immigration has been issued by the chiefs of police in Kansas City, Overland Park, Kansas City, Kan., or Independence.
So it appears that there will be no takers among our largest municipal police departments for Trump’s plan to effectively deputize police as immigration agents. And that’s the right strategy.
Local police departments are adamant that effective policing means respecting the line that distinguishes immigration as a function of the federal government. They do not want to be mistaken for immigration agents. They are not interested in rounding up immigrants whose only infraction is a matter of legal status, nor do they have the resources to carry out such a directive.
The reason is simple: Law enforcement recognizes that anyone — regardless of race, nation of origin or legal status — can be a victim of a crime, a witness or a perpetrator. Ostracizing entire communities by blurring the lines between policing and immigration enforcement would be counterproductive. Police would lose an essential tool in preventing and solving crime: community cooperation.
“We are not going out doing self-initiated activity looking for undocumented people,” said Sergeant Kari Thompson of the Kansas City Police Department.
The assistant city attorney of Overland Park, John J. Knoll, noted that officers there do not inquire about a person’s citizenship or their legal status unless it is pertinent to an investigation.
Kansas City, Kan. Chief Terry Zeigler stressed a focus on crime, noting that using officers for immigration purposes would surely incite charges of racial profiling.
And Independence police said they generally intersect with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a serious crime has been committed, or if a suspect or victim cannot be identified but may be known to the Department of Homeland Security.
That said, there are no free passes if an immigrant — with legal status or not — commits a crime. The often misinterpreted term “sanctuary city” does not apply here.
When called upon, local police regularly assist ICE. Assist is a key word that many of the departments use.
Our geography demands such cooperation. Interstates 70 and 35 crisscross the metro area. Major highways have been connectors for drug and human trafficking, serious crimes that have necessitated the working relationships that exist between ICE and local police.
Trump’s plans include ramping up deportations of people who cannot prove that they have been in the country continuously for two years. But the extent of local police departments’ participation would be limited by the need for warrants before law enforcement could hold someone suspected of an immigration violation beyond a certain amount of time.
Fortunately, the largest of our local police departments wisely view immigrant communities simply as people they protect and serve. If crimes are committed, they will act. And ICE will as well.
But public safety, not immigration enforcement, is the top concern.