Federal lawmakers are considering a new bill that would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol officers from identifying themselves as police officers. Amid confusion surrounding the uniforms these officers wear, officials have come out in support of the bill, which they believe will improve the reputation of municipal police in border areas.
New York Congresswoman Nydia Valezquez introduced the bill, which has since been co-signed by more than a dozen representatives. It would prohibit "immigration officers or agents of the Department of Homeland Security from wearing clothing or other items bearing the word 'police,'" according to the language of the bill. Signatories include Juan Vargas, the representative for California's 51st District, which includes all of Imperial County and southern San Diego County. This area borders Mexico near Tijuana and Mexicali.
As President Trump escalates immigration enforcement, tensions between law enforcement and immigrant communities have increased such that crime reporting has decreased in predominantly-Latino areas over fears of deportation, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Officials fear that when community members mistake police officers who enforce local public safety laws for federal agents who enforce immigration laws, community engagement and trust are hindered. In Los Angeles in particular, city officials have said that creating trust between the public and the LAPD is a high priority.
"When ICE agents target immigrants and identify themselves only as police officers, they're undermining this work that's been done to gain trust," said George Kivork, press secretary for the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
"It's especially important because the term 'police' in Los Angeles is synonymous with the Los Angeles Police Department," Kirvork added.
This isn't the first time that concern has been raised within Los Angeles law enforcement – back in February, Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Council President Herb Wesson co-signed a letter to ICE to urge them to stop identifying themselves as LAPD officers while seeking out individuals living in the country illegally. Similarly, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has worked to make distinct the differences between his department and ICE enforcement.
ICE Western Region Spokeswoman Lori K. Haley was unable to comment on pending legislation, but did address the bill via email.
"In the often dangerous law enforcement arena, being able to immediately identify yourself as law enforcement may be a life-or-death issue," Haley said. "However, ICE-issued uniforms and jackets also display 'ICE' to indicate the specific law enforcement agency being represented."