Immigrants, don’t be afraid to call us, police say in four languages

ST. PAUL -- Don't be afraid to call the police, St. Paul officers told people in videos posted online in four languages Wednesday. The videos from officers who speak Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Karen stress that St. Paul officers are not immigrati...

ST. PAUL -- Don’t be afraid to call the police, St. Paul officers told people in videos posted online in four languages Wednesday.

The videos from officers who speak Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Karen stress that St. Paul officers are not immigration officials. They reference a St. Paul ordinance that prevents city staff from asking people about their immigration status.

If people think that victims, witnesses or others who call the police could be questioned by officers about their immigration status, police worry it would have a chilling effect on them making reports, said St. Paul police Senior Cmdr. John Lozoya, in charge of the department’s Community Engagement Unit.

Police said they have been hearing concerns from immigrants since Donald Trump was elected president.

During the campaign, Trump gave a speech in which he promised to “end the sanctuary cities” and said those that “refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.” He has said his administration’s priority will be deporting criminals and securing the border.


Community members started contacting officers in the Minnesota chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association after Election Day, said Lozoya, who is also the group’s public information officer.

“They were asking, ‘Is our local law enforcement going to be going to schools, rounding up the kids?’ ” Lozoya said. “They said, ‘Are officers going to workplaces to look for undocumented people?’ ‘Say a parent or relative has an issue with immigration, are the police going to follow up and round up the rest of the family?’ ”

Lozoya gave people a resounding “no” to those questions. He and others spoke at a community meeting at a school in St. Paul two weeks ago.

After the meeting, the officers were asked to make an impromptu video to get their message across to Spanish-speaking individuals.

They did and the video, which is posted on the St. Paul Police Community Engagement Unit’s Facebook page, had been viewed nearly 40,000 times and shared more than 1,000 times as of Wednesday afternoon.

Now, the St. Paul Police Department is spreading the message to other immigrant groups. Each video features an officer as well as Lozoya and the police chief, and are also posted on the unit’s Facebook page. The Minneapolis Police Department posted similar videos in Somali on Wednesday and Spanish on Nov. 23.

The videos are not the only step that police have been taking, said Ramona Arreguin de Rosales, founder of Academia Cesar Chavez. She helped organize the recent meeting at the school, which drew more than 50 people.

“I think it’s a very wise thing to do these videos,” Arreguin de Rosales said Wednesday. “That’s connecting with the community and easing tension.”


Since Trump was elected, St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao said he’s heard from people in the Hmong and Cambodian communities that they’re concerned about deportation.

Thao said he views the videos from the police department as a good step to ease worries, but said he thought they could be clearer in explaining the difference between immigration officials and police officers.

The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis have pledged to stick to their “separation ordinances,” which draw a line between the role of local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.

“We will resist any attempt by the federal government to tell us how to police our community or to turn our officers into (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wrote in an editorial published in the Pioneer Press on Nov. 20.

Coleman also wrote that the city “does not provide safe harbor to criminals,” saying that if people are “in violation of federal immigration laws, those matters will be handled separately by the Department of Homeland Security.”

St. Paul’s 2017 proposed operating budget of $690 million includes $12.8 million in federal revenue. The mayor’s spokeswoman said she doesn’t know what Trump’s threat of cutting funding might mean for St. Paul.


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