National Immigration Law Center
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Our mission is to defend & advance the rights & opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members.

Victimizing the Victims

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FEBRUARY 2011

Victimizing the Victims


Victims and witnesses are at particular risk as a result of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) programs, such as 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program, that involve state and local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement.[1]  Through these programs, ICE channels immigrants from criminal proceedings into immigration proceedings.  ICE claims that its priority is to remove the most dangerous, convicted criminal, non-U.S. citizens.  But in practice these programs are an attack on all people who look or sound foreign, regardless of whether they have been convicted of the offense in question and regardless of their immigration status.

Police enforcement of federal immigration law harms victims and witnesses.

Once immigrants learn that reporting crimes will result in a check of their own immigration status, they are reluctant to call the police even when they are in danger.  Take Veronica from Oakland, CA, for example: Veronica called the police when she got into a heated argument with her brother, only to be arrested when the police came to investigate. Veronica was a U-visa recipient based on a previous instance of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband.  Although she was released after her fingerprints proved that she had valid immigration status, Veronica says she will never again call the police when she is in need of assistance. Veronica and her community are less safe because local police are enforcing immigration law.

Police enforcement of federal immigration law is undermining community policing.

When law enforcement agencies are tasked with immigration duties, crime reporting decreases in immigrant communities, as victims and witnesses remain in the shadows.  Immigrants learn to fear contact with the police, which means they are less likely to cooperate in investigations.  In addition, requiring police to perform immigration duties diverts police attention from their primary role of ensuring community safety.  Police departments are already cash-strapped, given the economic situation of every state in the country.  Involvement with ICE means police are performing resource-intensive duties as immigration officers in addition to their normal work.  Local police enforcement of federal immigration law is not good for our police or our communities.

Many police chiefs are opposed to local police enforcement of immigration law.

Police chiefs around the country recognize that community safety is undermined if police have to act as immigration agents.[2]  In the words of former Sacramento Police Chief Albert Nájera, “We can’t afford to have victims out there who won’t call us because they’re afraid they’re going to be deported.  People need to be able to call the police and have trust in us, without regard for their immigration status.”[3]  Police chiefs know from experience that enforcing immigration law is time-consuming and expensive, it distracts them from fighting crime, and it creates distrust of officers in a way that is harmful to victims.

Protect immigrant victims and witnesses from immigration enforcement.


Notes:

[1] For more information on ICE ACCESS Programs, see Overview of the Key ICE ACCESS Programs (NILC, Nov. 2009).
[2] See Why Police Chiefs Oppose SB 1070 (NILC, June 2010).
[3] “Police, Feds May Work in Tandem: Partnership Would Allow Cops to Enforce Immigration Law,” Sacramento Bee, May 14, 2004.