Local Immigration Enforcement Harms Community Policing and Public Safety

shutterstock_109593020Many local municipalities and law enforcement agencies are concerned that local immigration enforcement programs such as the 287(g) program, which deputize local police to perform duties of federal immigration agents, destroy the relationship between the police and the immigrant communities on whom they rely for cooperation and crime reporting. A report released this month by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) states that these fears are unfounded and that local immigration enforcement has no effect on cooperation with police. However, the data cited by CIS, which include crime reporting statistics and a study of the effects of the Prince William County 287(g) program, do not support these claims, and in fact suggest the opposite, that immigration enforcement by local police severely damages relationships with immigration communities and harms public safety.

The Prince William County study cited by CIS does not conclude that the implementation of the 287(g) program had no chilling effect on crime reporting by immigrants. To the contrary, it concludes that 287(g) “created fear and a sense of being unwelcome among immigrants in general, and it seems to have caused some legal immigrants, or Hispanics generally, to leave or avoid the County”. The program created “a serious ethnic gap in perception of the police, ratings of the County as a place to live, and trust in the local government; Hispanic opinions on these matters plunged to unprecedented lows.” The study states “police officers express concern that crimes against illegal immigrants are less likely to be reported, and the department knows of specific crimes in the Hispanic community that were not reported to police.” Officers thought that crime reporting was inhibited by the policy and community informants were unanimous in saying that crime victims or witnesses who were not citizens and did not speak English well would not report crimes. (See this documentary for information on the Prince William County experience.)

The other studies CIS cites also contradict their own claims, or don’t address how fear of police affects crime reporting. The 2001 survey by Davis, Erez and Avitabile (the title is not given but the citation is probably meant to refer to Access to Justice for Immigrants Who are Victimized: The Perspectives of Police and Prosecutors) concludes that fear of deportation does in fact deter immigrants from reporting crimes, but does not claim to measure the effect of enforcement policies. The 2008 Bureau of Justice Statistics data simply provides statistics on crime reporting by different racial groups, and says nothing about how reporting might be affected by fear of police or of immigration enforcement.

Academic studies and major police associations agree that that local immigration enforcement programs create fear and distrust between immigrant communities and local police and threaten public safety. Most recently, a 2013 report from the University of Illinois found that more than four in ten Latinos say that they are less likely to volunteer information about crimes because local police have become more involved in immigration enforcement, and they are afraid of immigration consequences for themselves or for family or friends. According to a 2009 report by the Police Foundation, the majority of police executives did not see the benefit of local police participating in immigration enforcement because public safety would suffer due to damage to trust and communication with immigrant communities and would undermine community policing efforts and lead to racial profiling.  The Major City Chiefs Association also opposes local immigration enforcement because it undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities which are essential elements of community oriented policing.

The enforcement of immigration laws is also very expensive for local communities, contrary to the anecdotal claims by CIS. A report by the Brookings Institute found that Prince William County, Va., had to raise property taxes and take from its “rainy day” fund to implement its 287(g) program. The report found the program cost $6.4 million in its first year and would cost $26 million over five years. A report by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The Latino Migration Project found the total cost for the first year of operating the 287(g) program in Mecklenburg County, N.C., to be $5.5 million. Meanwhile, costs for the first full year of operation in Alamance County, N.C., were found to be $4.8 million.

Increasingly local law enforcement authorities, like those in Chicago, New York, New Jersey and New Orleans, are declining to participate in aspects of immigration enforcement in the interest of strengthening relations with immigrant populations and creating safer communities. They recognize that local immigration enforcement is not just expensive, it encourages racial profiling, undermines community safety, and ultimately contributes little to apprehending violent criminals. Enforcement programs like 287(g) and extreme legislative proposals such as the SAFE act that impose immigration enforcement on local governments divide the communities they claim to protect and work against the law enforcement objectives they claim to pursue.

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