The Los Angeles Police Department is being sued in connection with its policy prohibiting officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status, and reportedly restricting them from cooperating with federal immigration officials.

The action has been filed by the public-interest group Judicial Watch, and asks the court to prohibit the LAPD from expending taxpayer funds to enforce and maintain “Special Order 40,” claiming it violates both California and federal laws and puts American citizens at risk.

“Special Order 40 is illegal and dangerous,” said the group’s president, Tom Fitton. “It constrains police officers from enforcing the law and places everyone at risk from criminal illegal aliens.”

Initiated in 1979 by former L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates, the measure reads, in part, “Officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person. Officers shall not arrest nor book persons for violation of Title 8, Section 1325 of the United States Immigration Code (Illegal Entry).”

According to a Board of Police Commissioners’ report in February 2001, in practice, the policies and procedures also “preclude officers from … notifying the [federal immigration officials] about a person’s undocumented status unless the person has been arrested.”

The Judicial Watch complaint states: “Special Order 40 and the policies, procedures, and practices arising thereunder … are unlawful and void, and the LAPD must be prohibited from expending any further taxpayer funds … to enforce, maintain, or otherwise carry out in any manner the provisions of Special Order 40.”

In 1996, Congress enacted legislation which states, ” … a federal, state, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement) information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

California law also mandates Los Angeles Police officers enforce immigration laws and work with federal immigration officials.

In its complaint, Judicial Watch cites a New York Times article published in late 2004 concerning an illegal alien who went on a rampage in Hollywood, Calif., mugging three people, burglarizing two apartments and attempting to rape a woman in front of her five-year-old daughter.

The unlawful immigrant had previously been deported four years earlier for robbery, drugs and burglary, but had made his way back into the U.S.

“Although he had been stopped twice for traffic violations,” the Times reported, “the police were prohibited from reporting him to immigration authorities.”

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