General Question

john65pennington's avatar

Can a U.S. citizen make a citizens arrest on an illegal immigrant?

Asked by john65pennington (29080 points ) June 1st, 2010

I was asked this question by my wife. i thought it was a good enough question to ask on Fluther. most states have citizens arrest laws. this is where a citizen witnesses or suspects someone of violating or commiting a crime. does the citizens arrest law allow citizens to stop and question suspected illegal immigrants, since the police cannot? citizens actually have more power, in this situation, than the police. once the citizens arrest is made, the suspected illegal immigrant would be turned over to the police. i am on the defensive, when i ask this question. i feel that this may be the future for U.S. citizens. i hope not. so, whats your opinion?

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32 Answers

skfinkel's avatar

What a nightmare this would be for all involved.

Jeruba's avatar

How does a citizen perform a citizen’s arrest? Is it just a matter of words? “I arrest you—?” Presumably there’s no force or weapon involved. So in practical terms, what detains the suspect? Why would someone stick around and wait for the police? If this isn’t something that a person can actually pull off, it seems like the question is moot.

lillycoyote's avatar

I think in most states you can only perform a citizens arrest if you witness someone in the commission of a felony and in North Carolina, it apparently is not permitted at all. And as @Jeruba points out the question is moot as the person would have to agree to stay there until the police come. You are not permitted to detain someone against his or her will.

WestRiverrat's avatar

I think it would depend on the laws of a specific state regarding Citizens Arrest. And whether they have the right to enforce federal law.

I don’t know the answer, I will contact a few of my friends in local LE and see if they can give me a definitive answer.

It is a GQ

Seaofclouds's avatar

I was just looking to see what the law was in Kansas, but could not find it. I did find some information and it talked about the differences from state to state and how if a citizens arrest is considered to be illegal, all evidence found on the suspect at that time would be thrown out of court for being illegally obtained. It also mentioned that the citizen could be sued if they maliciously arrested someone for violating their rights. Sounds like way to much of a headache for me to ever get involved with. I leave that stuff to the cops. If I see a crime, I’ll call 911 and do my best to assist them with what the suspect looked like and where he headed, but my involvement would stop there.

Buttonstc's avatar

Evidently, based upon recent discussions prompted by the AZ law, the only ones who can make arrests and detentions based upon someone being here illegally are those specifically empowered by ICE.

Technically speaking, this doesn’t even include regular police officers. This is evidently the basis of the lawsuits being filed against the state of AZ.

So, it’s doubtful that a citizens arrest would even raise an eyebrow on anyones part.

As I understand it, this is the crux of the issue as to why AZ. came up with this idea to begin with. They were just fed up with the Federal Govts failure to uphold it’s own laws.

I think they realized all along that their attempt would face legal challenges but wanted to push things to call attention to the entire issue.

The US needs to have a comprehensive policy regarding illegal immigration and then consistently enforce it all across the board.

As it stands now, it’s a chaotic mess with halfhearted attempts at sporadic enforcement. This is what border states are so frustrated by.

Dr_C's avatar

A citizen’s arrest applies onyl when witnessing a felony in progress. It does not apply to Federal offenses (under which you can categorize immigration offenses).

Roby's avatar

I would never attemp it myself.

perspicacious's avatar

Yes, if he/she witnesses a crime under state law by the illegal.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Even if you are covered under the law, are you prepared to back you actions with force if necessary? I’d love to see a bunch of stupid, selfish, paranoid citizens trying to arrest immigrants on the streets. That would be a massacre. They would get the shit kicked out of them, or they would get cut to pieces, or shot. And they would deserve it. For once, all the right people would die.

john65pennington's avatar

In my state, the citizen arrest law is the strongest in the nation. a citizen can arrest another person for a crime commited or suspected of commiting in his/her presence. the citizen may use whatever force is necessary to effect the arrest. the citizen only has to prove to a grand jury, why they did what they did. my followup question is being in the U.S. and undocumented a misdemeanor or a felony? our citizen arrest law only pertains to acts that are felonies, although misdemeanor arrests have been made by citizens. a good example is shoplifting. shoplifters are under cititzens arrest and detained for the police. again, any force can be used to detain a person under citizens arrest. most shoplifters, in my state, are handcuffed when the police arrive to make the official arrest. pepper spray can be used, any force, other than deadly force can be used to effect a citizens arrest.

john65pennington's avatar

Dr C, Federal offenses are included in my state. my police department enforces all Federal, State and Local laws. we are one of the very few in nation that do this.

tinyfaery's avatar

Give it a try. I’d looove to see what happens.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Yeah, Pennington, we’ve been reading your xenophibic rantings long enough. What are you waiting for? Be the change, bro!

john65pennington's avatar

Corvus, it was just a question. never been afraid of anyone or anything in my life. i had to look up your $50 dollar word in my dictionary.

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Ltryptophan's avatar

@jon65pennington shopkeepers have a law that allows them to detain someone. Not the same.

WestRiverrat's avatar

According to my buddy, we have the right to make the arrest. He also said it probably would be more trouble than it was worth to attempt it.

We cannot use force to detain people unless they are endangering lives. So they would be able to walk away. We would then have to go to court and prove our case. We would probably have to spend several thousand dollars to defend against the civil suits that are sure to be filed.

Dr_C's avatar

Here’s the thing, I’ve been doing a lot f thinking lately and have realized that a lot of comments made here (as well as certain questions) have been posted through genuine curiosity due to either lack of exposure or limited information and without malice. I’ve been guilty of misinterpreting certain questions or comments as “prejudiced”, “xenophobic”, “bigoted” and in some cases “racist”.

I have done so without actually knowing the person who posted, having a clear knowledge of their views or personal history, as well as the cultural phenomena which may influence his/her toughs on the subject based on their geography and the kind of community in which they live.

I have on occasion thought that the OP f this question made allusions that might be interpreted in the way I mentioned before, but maybe they really are just based in curiosity or a lack of exposure. While many of the posts deal with illegal immigrants and how to deal with their status, I don’t believe I’ve witnessed a direct attack. I have seen some misguided comments which were answered in unpleasant ways; I’ve seen accusations thrown around, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach would more likely be a discussion based on fact rather than perception.

Having said that I think the term ”xenophobia” is being misused (and to me it’s definitely not a $50 word) and quite possibly being applied prematurely. While it may apply to the practice mentioned in the question it might not apply to the individual that asked it.

One thing though… It is a common misconception and a matter of convenience to interpret certain words based on their denotation instead of their connotation. While the strict definition of xenophobia denoted fear… it connotes intolerance and animosity. Best to keep that in mind.

The definition of xenophobia is both common and technical. The common parlance is: Unreasonable fear or hatred of the unfamiliar, especially people of other races. The clinical definition is: An irrational fear of members of a certain race foreign to one’s own.

It is more broadly defined in the Dictionary of Psychology “a fear of strangers”. As defined by the OED, it can mean a fear of or aversion to, not only persons from other countries, but other cultures, subcultures and subsets of belief systems; in short, anyone who meets any list of criteria about their origin, religion, personal beliefs, habits, language, orientations, or any other criteria.

While some will state that the “target” group is a set of persons not accepted by the society, in reality only the phobic person need hold the belief that the target group is not (or should not be) accepted by society. While the phobic person is aware of the aversion (even hatred) of the target group, they may not identify it or accept it as a fear.

A xenophobic person has to genuinely think or believe at some level that the target is in fact a foreigner. This arguably separates xenophobia from racism and ordinary prejudice in that someone of a different race does not necessarily have to be of a different nationality.

In various contexts, the terms “xenophobia” and “racism” seem to be used interchangeably, though they can have wholly different meanings (xenophobia can be based on various aspects, racism being based solely on race ethnicity and ancestry). Xenophobia can also be directed simply to anyone outside of a culture, not necessarily one particular race or people.

So is this practice of having citizens detain others based on suspicion of immigration status and without the actual witnessing of a crime xenophobic in nature? Sure seems that way to me. As to whether or not it’s legal I can’t say. I just hope it’s not. Nothing is more demoralizing to a population than living in fear that your neighbor can turn you over to the authorities on a whim due to a suspicion, especially considering that human nature being what it is, the system is susceptible to abuse. “I don’t like you so I’m going to tell the cops you are illegal” might seem like a stretch… but the mere possibility of it makes me cringe.

UScitizen's avatar

No, even I can’t do that.

laureth's avatar

Here’s the thing I think people might not realize. The unusual quality of the Arizona law is that it criminalizes being in the country illegally. What this implies to me is that it was not illegal before. That is, a person may have entered the country through other-than-legal means, but the fact that they’re there is a “crime” only in the sense of “Boy, it sure is a crime that the Red Wings are out of the playoffs!” and not necessarily in the sense of “burglary is a crime.” The purpose of immigration detention is not punitive.

Immigration cases are tried in immigration court. It’s a bureaucratic and administrative situation, yes, and you ought not be there, to be sure. But arrests are made for criminal offenses, not for administrative irregularities. If you know of illegals and want to report them, you are always free to call up the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (their number is 1–866-DHS-2-ICE). That’s about as close as you can come to making a “citizen’s arrest” of a suspected illegal. ICE has the discretion to follow up, or not follow up, on your call, and will probably prioritize based on the situation, i.e., is it someone who is committing crimes, or is it someone who maybe has American citizen children and is living a quiet life.

If I am wrong about this, though, I would like to know.

Dr_C's avatar

One of the main arguments for SB-1070 is that it is necessary to keep american citizens safe. Which implies “safe from illegals” and “their violence”. Funny thing is that the areas around the border are literally the safest in America.

If you don’t want to follow the link I just posted, basically the article I linked to says that rhe top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives.

In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

The argument that immigration is causing violent crime or that there is a need for 6000 National Guard troops along the border is founded on a mistaken perception which is dis-proven by the facts. SB-1070 IS xenophobic.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

And anyone who supports that law is xenophobic by definiton.

zenele's avatar

This is General and you aren’t being “helpful” – get a room in social and smackdown.

Dr_C's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus that’s a bit of a stretch. Maybe a lot of the people who support it have not taken the time or have not had the opportunity/means that you have had to become informed on the merits or pitfalls of the law. Some may have only heard from less than reliable sources and some may have no real knowledge and tend to support initiatives along party lines.

It’s unfair to categorize such a diverse group based on our own personal opinions. My argument was that the law itself was xenophobic… however I understand that many of it’s supporters are unaware of the larger picture. It’s a lot easier to see it from the outside.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Dr_C
If any adult supports this law without reading it, they should take the lumps too, as far as I’m concerned. I extend no generosity to Dupes. They are of the portion of our society, these willfully ignorant followers of everything selfish and self-serving, that do more damage because of their numbers than the scum who write these backward laws.

The corporate-backed Right and their dupes have been pushing the limits far too long and recently they have been surprised at a few minor violent episodes from some sectors on the Left. I think that is hilarious, coming from people that blindly follow the violent rhetoric from the mouths of Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann, Malkin, et al.

Things may be coming to a head in this country. They should do well to remember that the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, which included the Free Speech Movement, Anti-War Movement, and the Women’s Rights Movement, with their back to the wall, was born in blood and defended in blood. In 1967, over 100 cities were burning. It should be no surprise to anyone when Civil Rights, whittled away over the past 30 years, will be taken back in blood.

When these people who support a law such as this begin talking about civil enforcement, I have to laugh. These idiots have bought into the idea of “the liberal wimp”, ~ a disservice provided by their propagandists. I say go for it. It will be great to see. Bring it on. It’s high time as far as I’m concerned.

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