The murder of a policeman in Houston has started an angry debate over immigration policy because the alleged killer is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Houston police currently operate under a policy of not asking people they encounter about their immigration status, but some outspoken local media figures are demanding that policy be changed.

The controversy erupted after it became known that the man accused of murdering Houston police officer Rodney Johnson last week was in this country illegally. Police investigators say Juan Leonardo Qunitero, a native of Mexico, confessed to firing four shots into the back of patrolman Johnson's head after being detained by the police officer on a routine traffic violation.

Local radio talk show hosts have strongly condemned the killing and the presence of illegal immigrant criminals in the community. The local offices of the League of United Latin American Citizens claims to have received threatening calls from people angered by the incident. Police say they are investigating. There is some tension in the black community over the killing because officer Johnson was black and his alleged killer was Mexican.

At a meeting with both black and Hispanic leaders Tuesday, Officer Johnson's widow, Joslyn Johnson, called on people to tone down their rhetoric and threats of violence.

"My husband would not want this and I do not want this," she said. "It is not going to resolve anything and it is not going to bring him back. All it does is divide our city and our people."

Johnson was a 12-year veteran on the Houston police force. He also left five children.

Quintero had been deported in 1999 as an illegal felon after being charged with indecency with a minor. Local talk radio show hosts and callers to their programs have made much of the issue, condemning the federal government for failing to secure the southern border and condemning Houston Mayor Bill White and the city council for maintaining a policy whereby police are not allowed to ask anyone about their immigration status unless they have been arrested for a serious crime.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt defends the policy, saying it helps police maintain good relations with all people in the community and encourages people to cooperate with the police regardless of their legal status.

Police spokesmen say some illegal immigrants might otherwise avoid the police and refuse to help in criminal investigations. Chief Hurtt says the real problem is the federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws that would stop criminals from entering the country illegally to commit crimes.