Police chief speaks to Hispanic congregation about new law

Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Much confusion surrounds the state’s new illegal immigration policy.

Judges have postponed implementation of some parts of the law, police officers are unsure how enforcement will affect them, and both citizens and non-citizens are worried about what the policy will mean for them.

Though he has questions of his own, Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell spoke to Clanton First United Methodist Church San Juan’s Mission about the law.

“With any new law, there is always a lot of misinformation out there,” Stilwell said. “I want to ensure that all citizens know that if it is determined that an employee of the Clanton Police Department is abusing his sworn authority that the officer will be sanctioned in accordance with all laws and policies.”

San Juan Mission is a ministry of CFUMC that has a congregation of about 100 people, about 90 percent of which are Hispanic, according to Pastor German Gomez.

Gomez said Stilwell helped ease concerns that the new law would give police officers authority to check the citizenship of anyone based simply on race or national origin.

Stilwell explained that the law contains a provision that strictly prohibits law enforcement from “racial profiling” but said that “if a person is stopped lawfully, detained or arrested, a law enforcement officer must make a reasonable effort to check the status of all people.”

One churchgoer told of a Hispanic woman who was robbed in the Walmart parking lot but did not contact police regarding the incident for fear that she would have been arrested for being here illegally.

Stilwell assured the congregation that if they witness a crime or become a victim that they would not be prosecuted under the new law. Under Section 21 of the law, there is a stay issued for any person who is a victim or witness of a crime.

“Some of our people were afraid,” Gomez said. “We have more peace after he left.”