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Pawlenty: Immigration ordinances need revision

Suspect's status shouldn't be forbidden topic, governor says

By Amy Forliti

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty has asked the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul to reconsider laws that limit situations in which police officers can ask about a person's immigration status.

In a letter obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press, Pawlenty cited a recent incident in North Carolina where authorities held a man on immigration violations after a police officer saw him filming financial institutions and other non-tourist structures.

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If a similar instance had happened in Minneapolis, police officers would have the authority to question a person about the suspicious behavior -- but not about immigration status, said Officer Ron Reier, department spokesman.

"If I see something and it looks to me as being suspicious, questionable, do I have the right as a police officer to question it? Yes," Reier said. "Can I continue my investigation without determining the nationality or the citizenship of that person? Yes."

In the letter, dated Aug. 24, Pawlenty asks each city to amend or repeal "an ordinance which effectively prohibits police officers from inquiring about immigration status if such an inquiry is the sole basis for questioning or detaining an individual."

Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow said the city has no plans to change its ordinance but would be willing to discuss the issue with the governor.

"We believe that the ordinance that we passed was appropriate and absolutely consistent with many states," Ostrow said.

St. Paul Deputy Mayor Dennis Flaherty told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the city would look at its ordinance to see how it really stacks up, adding the city did not intend to prohibit police officers from identifying criminal suspects.

Under the Minneapolis ordinance, passed in 2003, police officers do not have the authority to walk up to someone on the street and ask whether he or she is a naturalized citizen. The issue of citizenship may be raised, however, if it is part of the crime being investigated.

It stems from a police department policy that was created under former Chief Robert Olson to help officers build trust within the communities they serve and to make sure a clear line was drawn between the duties of local authorities and federal immigration officials, Ostrow said.

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"It, in large part, really just codified what was existing practice," he said.

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