Houston police Chief Art Acevedo presides over a meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association in Miami on Wednesday. (Major Cities Chiefs Association/Major Cities Chiefs Association)

MIAMI — The police chiefs of America’s largest cities on Thursday called on the federal Department of Homeland Security to meet with them as their departments struggle with the influx of immigrants from the southern border. The chiefs said they want to hear how federal immigration authorities plan to deal with relocating immigrants to their cities and how they will handle “sanctuary city” status declared by local governments, and the police want a voice in the federal policymaking process.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association, comprising the chiefs and sheriffs of the 69 largest law enforcement agencies in the United States, formed an immigration working group at its meeting here, led by Houston police Chief Art Acevedo, who has openly opposed a Texas law banning sanctuary cities. Acevedo and other chiefs here said they do not take immigration status into account when performing their duties, only whether someone is breaking the law or has been a crime victim. They see immigration enforcement as a federal responsibility, not one for local police.

“From our perspective,” Acevedo said in an interview, “there is no such thing as a ‘sanctuary city’ in terms of taking action against those who would do harm to members of our communities.” Police have long felt that taking on immigration enforcement by routinely checking a person’s status will deter immigrants from reporting crime or cooperating with investigations. Acevedo said there had been a nearly 43 percent drop in reporting of sexual assaults in Houston by its Hispanic community in 2017.

The chiefs’ working group wants to discuss the federal policy on Immigration and Customs Enforcement civil detainers for undocumented immigrants, which a number of police departments and jails have refused to recognize since they are not criminal warrants. They also want to talk about the issue of notifying ICE before releasing prisoners who have immigration detainers. “The immigration authorities have to pick them up,” Acevedo said. “We don’t turn them over.”

Some chiefs told Acevedo that their local social service agencies are being overwhelmed by busloads of suddenly relocated immigrants. “There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Acevedo said, “when we see asylum seekers that are being distributed throughout the country. We need to know what is the plan and what is the impact on public safety. We need to be part of the discussion because while immigration enforcement is a federal issue, these decisions have an impact on the safety and security of the American people, and that is our primary responsibility.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said the agency “has repeatedly and extensively worked with our country’s law enforcement officials to address the current immigration crisis facing our homeland and keep our communities safe. In fact, former Secretary Nielsen met with the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, co-chaired by Chief Acevedo, this past February to discuss law enforcement concerns and Acting Secretary McAleenan continues to meet with various law enforcement leaders to seek feedback and identify viable, lasting solutions to the ongoing crisis and achieve the Department’s humanitarian and security mission.”

The announcement from the Major Cities Chiefs Association is here.