Nueces County DA takes stand against federal immigration crackdown

The City of Los Angeles challenges the Justice Department's linking of grants to the pursuit of illegal immigrants.   File image

A recently elected Texas district attorney has joined a nationwide move by local law enforcement against attempts by the federal authorities to entangle them in an immigration crack down.

Matt Gonzalez, elected DA for Nueces County in November, has signed on to an amicus brief, or friend of the court filing, in support of the City of Los Angeles over a Department of Justice policy that financially rewards jurisdictions that actively help in the crack down.

The Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which dispenses grants to local law enforcement, has begun rewarding those jurisdictions that allow agents unlimited access to detention facilities to inquire about immigration status. They also are rewarded if they notify the Department of Homeland Security before releasing an illegal immigrant, who may have been picked up for a minor offense.

Gonzalez has vowed he will not participate in the program, and 33 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officers have signed on to the brief. Many, including Gonzalez, are recently elected prosecutors who formed a network called Fair and Just Prosecution.

The motivation to sign on to the brief, and oppose the Justice Department moves, stems from a concern there will be an erosion of trust among non-citizens, including the undocumented, and the general Hispanic community, said Nueces County First Assistant District Attorney Matt Manning.

There is the potential that witnesses and victims will not come forward, and that crimes will not be investigated, Manning told Texas Business Daily.

"We are concerned about this Justice Department policy and the threats if we do not do its bidding," he said. "Rhetoric from Washington is leaving everyone on edge."

He described the policy emanating from Washington as a change of focus. While the previous Barack Obama Administration posted record numbers of deportations, though these tailed off in the latter years. Manning said the Obama administration focus was on pursuing criminals in the country illegally, keeping them out, and finding and identifying non-citizens who are committing criminal acts.

"It was not Suzy from Guatemala, where someone snatches her purse and she does not want to get involved with the police," the assistant district attorney said. "This administration has broadened the net -- and there is a federal incentive for local law enforcement to aggressively pursue all and any undocumented immigrants. There is a great incentive for those who apply and pledge close co-operation with federal authorities."

And the potential for profiteering is real, he argued.

"They are energized to look for people," Manning said. "They are going to give you money to police immigrants with that added directive."

The directive specifically asks municipalities and counties to sign a "Certification of Illegal Immigration Cooperation" when applying for COPS grants. They will then receive preferential treatment when it comes to the awarding of those grants.

Manning described this move as "inimical to law enforcement's duty of serving and protecting." He said there is potential for abuse as it financially incentivizes particular actions. He is also worried that normal task forces made up of local and federal forces may target undocumented immigrants.

The City of Los Angeles challenges the Justice Department's linking of grants to the pursuit of illegal immigrants.

The amicus brief was organized Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection in tandem with Fair and Just Prosecution.

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