Another Good Argument for Conservatives on Immigration Reform: Local Law Enforcement Calls for It


As you begin the experience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., one of the first images you encounter is a photo of a Nazisoldier standing with a German police officer. Conspicuously, the identical theme exists at Yad VaShem, Israel's memorial to Holocaust victims.

The Nazi propaganda and hatred effort did not begin with imprisonment and genocide. It was instituted subtly, declaring the criminality of those deemed inferior. Laws were developed and regulations restricting movement, mandating identification and limiting human rights were also passed. Co-opting the trusted local constabulary was instrumental in enforcement of those laws.

Unfortunately, throughout history local law enforcement has been an extremely effective arm of oppression. How many individuals in the United States were lynched, under the color of authority, for violations of Jim Crow laws?

Chris Burbank, The Salt Lake Tribune

This week marked the starting date of Utah’s new “immigration strike force,” a new crime-fighting crew that will allegedly target felony-level crimes committed by undocumented residents.  The price tag for the new enforcement effort comes in just under $900,000.  Unlike most 287(g) agreements, which are unfunded mandates, the bill for this “strike force” is footed by all federal taxpayers, as it was financed with – you guessed it – stimulus funds.

Local law enforcement should diligently continue to arrest serious criminal offenders and, and certainly refer dangerous criminals to federal authorities. But civil immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and it is a well-documented fact that avoiding mixing civil immigration law with persecution of crimes is essential to the well-being of our neighborhoods.

Asking local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, as Utah's new law does, is contrary to our mission, marginalizes significant segments of the population, and complicates and ultimately harms effective community policing.  Communities suffer a series of unintended consequences, as has been emphasized by police chiefs all over the country - including Miami, Northern Virginia - as they call for federal immigration reform. In cases like Prince William County, VA, we've had time to see the hearmful effects of these laws paly out.  

Chiefs John Timoney of Miami and Art Acevedo of Austin, Texas; and former Chief Art Venegas of Sacramento, Calif., called for the federal government to fix the broken immigration system at an event hosted by America’s Voice.  

The Austin chief told the press, "economic immigrants" - people who come to the U.S. in search of employment or a better life - shouldn't be treated as criminals because, they're in violation of civil statutes, not criminal laws.

The chiefs said they wouldn't turn a blind eye to crimes committed by illegal residents but denied such crime was a major concern in their precincts.  Timoney reported that there is often less crime in the immigrant communities because of fear of deportation.

But the Chiefs report that fear also hurts law enforcement efforts.  "We cannot have a whole community of people afraid of coming forward when the time is absolutely critical to solving a case," Venegas said.

Passing immigration reform will only add to the safety of our communities and make our local police departments’ job much easier.  As most recently documented in its report on a yearlong study by the Police Foundation, the cost of participating in 287(g) and like programs far outweighs the benefits (I suppose unless you can get taxpayers from all over the country to chip in, as was the case in Utah). 

The Salt Lake Tribune article by Mr. Burbank continues: 

It is pointedly ironic that the state of Utah, founded by Mormon pioneers who immigrated to the region seeking religious freedom and escape from local governmental persecution, has chosen to assume a negative and biased position toward immigrants and all individuals different from the majority.

We have already observed a chilling effect upon victims and witnesses as well as a polarization within neighborhoods regarding immigration legislation (Senate Bill 81) that went into effect on Wednesday. Often unrecognized in the debate is the significant adverse impact upon all individuals of color. How is a police officer to determine status without detaining and questioning anyone who speaks, looks or acts as if they might be from another nation?

For many years, Washington has failed to repair a broken immigration system, and local police officers have been irresponsibly designated to pick up the slack. By increasing our role in civil immigration action, state and local officers are placed in the untenable position of potentially engaging in unconstitutional racial profiling while attempting to maintain trust within the communities we protect.