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Arrest of Six Illegal Immigrants at Qualcomm Raises Concerns

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The arrest of six illegal immigrants at the Qualcomm Stadium evacuation site yesterday raises questions regarding how San Diego Police handle immigration issues. Civil rights activists are concerned police may be violating their own policy with respect to the Border Patrol. KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson has details.

San Diego Police are defending their actions at Qualcomm.

They say six people were arrested on suspicion of stealing emergency supplies, including food and water, to resell them. And one admitted he was in the country illegally.

Paul Cooper is counsel to San Diego's police chief. He says that's why police called in the Border Patrol.

Cooper: There was some reasonable suspicion that there had been some criminal activity afoot and there was a question about immigration status. And they were detained very briefly until Border Patrol could get there.

San Diego Police policy allows officers to contact Border Patrol when a suspect is believed to be involved in criminal activity.

But that same policy forbids police from contacting Border Patrol if the suspect is involved in a misdemeanor or minor traffic infractions.

However, when questioned about the specifics of cooperation with local law enforcement, Border Patrol spokesman Damon Foreman said it’s not unusual for police to call Border Patrol when they stop someone for speeding or a broken tail light.

Foreman: They'll call us if they have to pull over a vehicle for whatever probable cause they have to pull the vehicle over. And if the people don't speak English or they don't present them with any documents at all...sometimes people present the police with a Mexican drivers license of they present them with a consular card, or something. And they'll call the Border Patrol for assistance.

It’s this close cooperation that stokes fear among many undocumented immigrants say immigrants' rights activists. They say that's especially true during emergencies like this week's potentially life threatening fires.

Activists say many migrants avoided evacuation and shelters or left Qualcomm because of it.

Kevin Keenan is Executive Director of the ACLU. He says he hopes police can resolve the discrepancy.

Keenan: The top brass at San Diego Police Department have been consistent and worked right. They have a clear policy. It’s a reasonable one. We're very concerned that front line rank and file are not following that policy.

It’s unclear whether the policy was violated at Qualcomm, though police insist they did nothing wrong.

Keenan says he'll follow up with the chief.

Meanwhile, the men suspected of stealing were deported to Mexico. Police say they were not charged.

Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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