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DN editorial: Rounding up immigrants shouldn't be part of police's job

AMERICA ONCE was the place that offered refuge to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty proclaims.

AMERICA ONCE was the place that offered refuge to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty proclaims.

No more. If his harsh rhetoric is to be believed - and there is no reason it shouldn't be - President-elect Donald Trump doesn't want anything to do with the wretched refuse of teeming foreign shores. He wants to erect barriers to new immigrants arriving, involving exclusions of people from certain countries who practice certain religions.

And he wants to toss out the immigrants who came here - often decades ago - without the documents required. During the campaign, Trump put the number at 11 million and said they would all have to go - a total roughly equal to the population of Ohio.

The sheer logistics of that boggled the mind. The image of people being pulled from their homes and workplaces, businesses and schools sent a chill through the heart.

Trump has backed away from that plan. Recently, he said he would target what he said were the 2 million to 3 million immigrants who are criminals. He is still off. According to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, about 820,000 of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants have criminal records. Of that, about 300,000 have convictions for serious felonies - the bad guys, as Trump rightly calls them.

Such a policy would have serious repercussions for cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and dozens of others with large immigrant populations, including thousands of undocumented residents.

If Trump wants to quickly reach a goal of several million, the effort surely will involve sweeps of neighborhoods and setting up incarceration in camps at staging areas where those caught in the net presumably will get hearings then be transported back to their countries of origin.

The Trump people acknowledge such an operation is beyond the capacity of the federal immigration enforcement agency and would have to enlist the help of local law enforcement - specifically, the police.

Mayor Kenney has made it clear he wants nothing to do with the Trump roundup. And he's on record as saying he doesn't want Philadelphia police acting as immigration enforcement officers. Just last week, he reaffirmed that Philadelphia will remain a so-called sanctuary city - though he revised the name to "Fourth Amendment city." That means the police won't hold people charged with civil infractions for federal immigration officials.

We can think of many philosophical and constitutional reasons why Trump's roundup is a bad idea. Practically, though, the job of police is to protect communities and to fight crime. If they are used in rounding up thousands of immigrants for deportation, their effectiveness as law-enforcement agents will be permanently and seriously damaged.

No immigrant - legal or undocumented - would call 911 or step forward as a witness to a crime out of fear that they or a family member would be caught up in Trump's dragnet.

The police already have ground to make up when it comes to community trust. Do they need to do further damage to their reputations?

We hope Kenney and local civil and law-enforcement officials across the country resist Trump's effort before it comes to pass. It's bad policy, and it's harmful to the efforts of law enforcement to keep the peace.