It was in 2003 that out of 23,000 police officers in the United States, ten were proud award recipients of the USA â€œTop Copâ€ award, which was started in 1994. Among them was Pakistani-American Police Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi of the Houston Police Department (HPD). Also the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the worldâ€™s oldest and largest nonprofit membership organization of police executives, with over 19,000 members in over 89 different countries. IACP, in collaboration with the Parade Magazine, also selected Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi from nominations submitted nationwide for recognition in their 2003 Police Officer of the year program. The police officer of the year award symbolized the highest level of achievement among police officers in the country, and Officer Siddiqi became the first Muslim and Pakistani to have received this coveted award. Siddiqi is a former inspector at the â€˜Eagle Squadâ€™ of Karachi. Among several other commendations, Officer Siddiqi received State of Texas Law Enforcement Achievement Award by Governor Rick Perry, and the Bravo Award from the former City of Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown.
Being an immigrant and very active Officer, who is involved in several community services projects, over the years, HPD officials have appointed Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi, as the liaison of the department for several immigrant communities, like Muslims, Arabs, Pakistani, Indians, Bangladeshis, and so on.
With discussion going on, and even laws being enacted by many States and local jurisdictionsâ€™ in USA, where the local law enforcement agencies including officers of police departments can ask any violators of laws (including traffic violation stops), there has been uncertainty among the immigrant communities in Houston, as to what is the policy of local law enforcement. It is not people are scared of being caught driving while being undocumented, but it can be just a hassle, to go through the immigration status check for the law abiding immigrants, since people do not carry their passports and green-cards all the time.
When asked, Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi informed that it is a long standing policy of Houston Police Department (HPD) since 1992, when according to the Houston Police Departmentâ€™s General Order (500-05), police officers are specifically prohibited to ask a personâ€™s citizenship status a person, just to ascertain his or her legal status in USA. HPD officers have no authority to arrest or detain a person solely on a belief that the person is in the country illegally. Officers are authorized to arrest and detain persons, who they have a reasonable suspicion to believe have committed a criminal violation. Once a person has been arrested and taken to a jail facility, HPD jail personnel will then run the individual through the Secure Communities Program.
â€œMain job of HPD officers is to maintain law, prevent crimes, and apprehend criminals; and they are not responsible for immigration enforcement, which is the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),â€ added Officer Siddiqi.
He informed that it is not against the law to not possess a form of identification on a person, as long as he or she is not driving a motor vehicle. However, if one has committed a criminal offense, traffic violation, and cannot provide identification for the police officer, and the officer cannot verify the identity, the officer has the discretion to take the individual into custody for the criminal violation so that the person can be identified, and fingerprinted in order to determine the personâ€™s true identify. For this ID, HPD officers will accept driverâ€™s licenses, and identification cards issued by any State of the United States of America. Also, the officers will accept most other forms of government IDs, such as a military ID, passport, etc.
Additionally, officers are advised that a â€œMatricula Consularâ€ card issued by the Mexican government is presumed valid unless the totality of the circumstances calls the validity of the card into question.
Explaining what the Secure Communities is, Officer Siddiqi informed that it is an existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE, HPD, and the FBI that assists in identifying criminal aliens without imposing additional requirements on local and state law enforcement. Local jurisdictions such as HPD share the digital fingerprints of prisoners booked at the two City of Houston jail facilities with the FBI to determine if they have a criminal record and/or are wanted in another jurisdiction. The FBI then automatically sends this information to ICE to check against their immigration databases.
Any individual that has been arrested by HPD for any crime and booked at one of the two city jails will be run through the Secure Communities Program regardless of their citizenship status. HPD does not make any decisions and is not involved in the process or decision-making of removing people from the country. Only the federal government will make the decision on any immigration enforcement action.
Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi stressed that for a secure and safe Houston, it is important that all the inhabitantsâ€™ of the city report about any crime that see is happening, even if they are undocumented. HPD hopes and encourages immigrant communities to continue to call the police, when they need assistance from the police. Immigrants, who are victims of crime or have information regarding criminal activity, should contact the police. Individuals should not fear that HPD will call immigration agents. HPD will only contact ICE when a person is confirmed to have a deportation warrant or a notice from ICE that they are a previously deported felon. In addition, ICE currently has policies and/or privileges in place that may allow a victim or witness to a crime, to obtain a U-Visa based on cooperation with an on-going law enforcement investigation.