LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California strongly opposes efforts to give Anaheim police officers the authority to arrest people suspected of violating federal immigration laws.

The proponents of this measure have deviously twisted the meaning of the 1996 federal welfare and immigration laws. Under those laws, state and local governments cannot enforce a law that prohibits the local police from reporting information on a person's immigration status to the INS. The federal law does not - and under our Constitutional system of government cannot - give local police the authority to act as INS agents enforcing INS laws.

Moreover, this mean-spirited, anti-immigrant measure would wreak immeasurable harm on Anaheim residents and visitors alike. Bluntly put, it will lead to racial profiling in a city that has a nearly 40% Latino population - as well as a large number of Latinos who come to the city to work, cheer for their teams at sports events, and enjoy the rides at Disneyland. And make no mistake: improper arrests can lead to expensive legal liability. Wrongful detention and arrests by local police in cooperation with the INS have recently resulted in several successful damages suits against municipalities.

In addition, there is clear evidence that when local law enforcement attempts to enforce federal immigration laws, the police have an even tougher time investigating and curbing crime. We know that immigrants are disproportionately the target of crime. Victims and witnesses concerned that they will be questioned about their immigration status - or arrested and turned over to INS officials by the police - will refuse to come forward. Immigrants will become easy prey for criminals who know the victims will not report offenses to the police for fear of being deported.

The result is inevitable: crime will go unreported and unsolved. And criminals will be free to strike again and again in vulnerable communities. We urge the Council to leave enforcement of the federal immigration laws where it properly, and legally, belongs - with federal immigration authorities.