• E-mail Maggie Lineback

IRVING, Texas — Who’d think something as simple as a phone call could cause so much controversy? But that’s just what’s happening in Irving, Texas.

When someone’s brought to the jail and can’t prove they’re in the U.S. legally, Irving law enforcement officers let their fingers do the walking. Local police cannot enforce federal immigration laws. They also can’t make the official determination of whether someone’s here legally. So Irving police call the people who can.

Immigration Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, has a special hotline set up just for this purpose. It allows an ICE officer to get on the phone with a suspect and interview him or her. ICE also has access to databases that can help establish someone’s legal status.

When do local law enforcement officials call ICE? That depends where you live. Contacting ICE is at the discretion of each police or sheriff’s department. So while ICE has a program called “Operation Streamline” near the border, which mandates that immigrants go to jail until they see a judge on immigration violations, someone popped for an infraction by a local police officer may never be referred to ICE. The city of Irving calls ICE every time someone’s immigration status can’t be determined.

This has led to plenty of debate. To many activists in the Hispanic community, it amounts to racial profiling. They say people being pulled over for traffic tickets end up getting deported because they can’t produce ID and are hauled off to jail. The Mexican Consul in Dallas says half of the deportation cases it reviews originate from Irving. The Consul is advising all Mexican nationals to steer clear of the city.

Irving’s mayor says that’s regrettable, but he’s standing firm. He says the city’s not trying to weigh in on the national debate on immigration; it’s just trying to let ICE officers do their job.

Maggie Lineback is a Dallas bureau producer.