LOS ANGELES - Historic talks concluded yesterday between Presidents George Bush and Vicente Fox on the vital importance of establishing humane treatment of immigrants in the United States. The urgency of the problem was underscored last week when LAPD officers, responding to a noise complaint in a Hollywood apartment building, conducted a nightmarish raid on 36 immigrants.

Clear LAPD policy, adopted over two decades ago, appears to have been flagrantly violated when officers discovered the group of immigrants being held against their will in violation of trafficking laws. All 36 victims were turned over to the INS, presumably for deportation. Eyewitnesses report that officers forced the victims to sit or lie in the hot sun for two hours, without water, medical care, or shade. What possible justification can the police have for going after victims of crime in such a heartless manner, and in violation of Special Order 40?

Special Order 40, enacted in 1979, bars police from enforcing federal immigration laws. The Police Commission and top LAPD officials strongly re-affirmed the Order four years ago, and then again last year. The Police Commission's own Independent Review Panel noted how critical the Order is to ensure public safety.

A clear message was sent last week to all undocumented victims of crime: "If you know what's good for you, don't take a chance on getting help from the police."

Special Order 40 is essential. 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. The result is inevitable: immigrants will become easy prey for criminals who know the victims will not report offenses to the police for fear of being deported. It happened last week. We cannot stand by and let it happen again.

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