Latinos Are Afraid to Report Crime as Debate Around Immigration Intensifies

The new administration has demonstrated that no one is off limits when it comes to ramping up their deportation policies, and as a result community safety is in jeopardy. Despite the fact that they say their policies will keep Americans safer, data shows that members of the public are becoming reluctant to report crime—either as a victim or witness. When some residents are afraid to report crimes, it means the whole community is less safe.

Case in point: a woman was recently picked up by ICE in a Texas courthouse as she sought a protective order against an abusive boyfriend. As news like this breaks, the result is an erosion of trust between the police and the immigrant and Latino communities they are supposed to serve and protect. This reality has become apparent through data provided by police departments across the country who are noting a decrease in the amount of crime reporting happening in predominantly Latino communities.

Data consistently shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and many of the areas of the country with the largest number of immigrants and Latinos are among the safest in the country. But immigrants can still be victims of, or witnesses to, crimes in their communities.

Alarmingly, according to recent data from The Washington Post, the number of Latinos turning to their local police departments for violent crime reporting is down from coast to coast and the shift in the data from this time last year is undeniable. And while Latinos are not necessarily a proxy for immigrants, the data can signal broader problems for the immigrant community.

With a Latino population of nearly 40 percent, Houston, Texas, has perhaps fared the worst—statistics indicate that there has been a staggering 43 percent drop in the number of Latinos reporting rape and sexual assault, as well as a 12 percent decline in reports of aggravated assault and robbery respectively.

Similar harrowing statistics can be traced across the map—the Los Angeles Police Department has reported a near 10 percent drop in spousal abuse reports and a 25 percent decrease in the reporting of rape among the city’s Latino residents. Officers in New Jersey’s Camden County have likewise seen a 6 percent drop in service calls from residents in predominantly undocumented communities.

There is a multitude of reasons Latino residents may now fear contacting the police when they are a victim of a crime.

If they are a member of a mixed status family, they will be unlikely to go to the police if the household is robbed, for instance, as it could result in a family member being deported. If they are a victim of a sexual assault committed by a U.S. citizen, reporting the crime to the police could inadvertently launch them into deportation proceedings if they are undocumented. Even those with citizenship status may be hesitant to contact the police, as there have been multiple instances of police attempting to deport people who are U.S. citizens in recent months.

Changing enforcement tactics—from local police acting as immigration officials to raids conducted inside sensitive locations—has compounded this fear. Despite evidence that these types of tactics fail to accurately identify serious criminals and often result in widespread racial profiling, President Trump signed an executive order calling for the expansion of these tactics within the first five days of his administration.

This data shows that police departments will need to engage with their Latino and immigrant communities in a way that is both sensitive to their needs and cognizant of the very real fears they are experiencing.

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