Police chiefs recommend changes to immigration law

Published 8:14 pm Thursday, December 15, 2011

A group of police chiefs from across the state would like to see some changes in Alabama’s new immigration law.

The Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police recently recommended several changes to the law. The association sent the recommendations to their local representatives and senators and media members.

The police chiefs would like what they see as ambiguities and inconsistencies in the law cleared up, Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said.

One part of the law the association would like to see changed now allows officers to be arrested, sanctioned, fined or sued for not enforcing the law.

There are also inconsistencies concerning how long someone can be held while trying to determine citizenship status, Stilwell said. Some parts of the law say 48 hours, while others say 24 hours.

“It’s not that we don’t want to enforce the law. We don’t know what (to enforce),” Stilwell said.

Making driving without a license an arrestable offense, which it is in several states, could clear up much of the confusion about the law, Stilwell said.

“I still firmly believe we could make the whole immigration verification a moot point by making driving without a license (or) driving while suspended, revoked, cancelled or denied a misdemeanor offense requiring an arrest and that a good bond be made,” Stilwell wrote in an email.

An arrest requires jails to verify immigration status, which was happening before the law went into effect, through bonding and fingerprints, Stilwell said.

The change would also eliminate the possibility of profiling, Stilwell said.

“It removes the possibility for profiling because every person not in possession of a driver’s license or driving on one that is invalid would be arrested,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell said officers are also confused about how federally granted U Visas (which give victims and witnesses of crimes in the U.S. temporary legal status) might conflict with the new law.

Stilwell said he was also bothered about comments from state leaders that called the detainment of a Mercedes and a Honda executive as “unfortunate” or “bad” when the law was being enforced as written.

“We are really stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell said he hopes lawmakers take the upcoming session to make the law “clearer and easier to enforce.”

He said he would support suspending the law until changes are made.

“I would really like for them to make drastic changes and suspend the law until they get it right,” Stilwell said.