The hunt for terrorists lurking in the US has started to break down an old and needless wall in law enforcement. These days, local and state police increasingly are helping federal agents locate or catch illegal aliens.
Before Sept. 11, most police wanted little or nothing to do with enforcing the nation's immigration laws. Cities such as Chicago even have explicit "don't ask" policies for city employees, including police, in handling illegal immigrants.
But the US Department of Homeland Security needs more eyes and ears to locate more than 8 million illegal immigrants in the US, some of whom are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. So the department has supported moves among the nation's 600,000 state and local law enforcement officers to add immigration crimes to the list of offenses they watch for.
Highway patrol officers in Alabama, for example, have partnered with Homeland Security, and now have authority to arrest and detain illegal immigrants. Just last month, police across the country assisted federal agents in locating some 2,000 illegal immigrants.
Critics are right to suggest, however, that such police action should take place only with safeguards in place to prevent racial profiling and after training in immigration law enforcement. Some immigration issues, such as overstaying a visa, are civil violations, not criminal, and involve complicated laws.
Further, many police officers have developed good relations with the immigrant community over time, and those relationships will need careful tending if more police begin arresting illegal immigrants.
Still, enforcing US immigration laws at all levels of government is just the kind of cooperation that can help make the US safer.