Immigrants should feel protected by local police, not threatened
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Last week, a federal district court judge ruled that the U.S. Justice Department cannot require local police departments to help immigration agents in exchange for federal funding.
The injunction is a rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well as the Trump White House, which has sought to boost deportations in Hispanic neighborhoods by tying federal money to information-sharing between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers.
Supporters of such programs as Secure Communities and 287(g) -- both of which expanded the immigration-enforcement powers of local police during the Obama administration -- believe they are common-sense mechanisms to ensure that unauthorized immigrants caught during routine police calls are identified for deportation.
The truth is that these programs have been denounced for nearly a decade by law-enforcement leaders across the country who say they erode the relationship between residents and their local police, leading to poorer law enforcement and less-safe neighborhoods.
A recent article on the website of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy think tank, analyzes the negative impact that 287(g) policies can have on communities. It focuses on the frustration of local law enforcement officials who opposed increasing their immigration responsibilities from the very start.
"In the past decade, at least 35 287(g) agreements with state and local jurisdictions have been terminated or not renewed. Local and state officials frequently cited a degradation of trust in the community; a drain on agency resources; advocacy efforts from both local immigrant rights groups and national organizations; and court rulings as reasons for ending or exiting the program," writes Anneliese Hermann in the article.
These agreements fell apart for many reasons, not the least of which was the extremely high cost for local law-enforcement organizations. When local agencies receive training from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), they still have to foot their own bills for related expenses and additional staff.
As Hermann notes, "Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez terminated the county's 287(g) agreement in February 2017 due to limited departmental resources, stating that it cost the sheriff's office an estimated $675,000 in salaries alone."
Another factor in the dismantling of 287(g) agreements was public outcry. Immigrant advocates played a major role in disentangling immigration activities from local policing. Communities in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and Illinois were able to keep their local law enforcement out of immigration matters by turning out in large numbers to protest.
In Waukegan, Illinois, for instance, the Latino community mobilized organizations and people across the northern part of the state in June 2007 to march against the mayor's decision to apply for the 287(g) program. The training never materialized, and, after two years, a new mayor was elected, and he immediately withdrew the application.
Lastly, ICE itself terminated several 287(g) agreements with local law enforcement agencies after the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed patterns of racially discriminatory police and jail practices that targeted Latino residents and inmates.
Among these were Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamously abusive 287(g) program in Maricopa County, Arizona, as well as programs in Alamance County in North Carolina and Herndon, Virginia. These cases featured illegal racial profiling of Hispanics, physical abuse and a chilling effect on community cooperation with police due to fear among the area's residents -- regardless of their immigration status.
So while it might seem like "common sense" for police to prioritize immigrants' resident status when responding to domestic-violence disputes, robberies, or car accidents, it just isn't the best move.
The Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, an assemblage of police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, has for many years made clear its views on federal involvement in local policing: "Immigrants should feel safe in their communities and comfortable calling upon law enforcement to report crimes, serving as witnesses, and calling for help in emergencies. This would improve community policing and safety for everyone."
Regardless of the White House's rhetoric, taking a hard line on immigrants has yet to be proven to be an effective way to reduce local crime levels. Instead, take the word of the police officers looking to better protect their communities: When immigrants feel safe in their neighborhoods, we are all safer.