When local police officers collaborate with immigration law enforcement, communities are not made safer. Tensions between police officers and community members increase, as does the distrust people feel towards law enforcement.
Unfortunately, Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows local law enforcement officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions, is being adopted in communities across the country. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security describes 287(g) on their webpage.
ICE officials argue that collaboration between local and immigration law enforcement is important because it gives police officers “necessary resources and latitude to pursue investigations relating to violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling and money laundering.” In theory, inter-agency collaboration could enhance national security. In practice, the adoption of 287 (g) decreases local-level security.
287 (g) gives police officers the authority to call immigration agents to find out if any person they encounter is undocumented. This means that people who are undocumented or whose loved ones are undocumented will be less likely to call the police to report crimes, even when they are the victims. Because of the heavy policing of Latino neighborhoods, 287(g) could even lead to people being scared to take their children to the hospital.
When I lived in a primarily Latino community in Chicago, Little Village, one of my neighbors recounted to me what happened when her daughter fell off of a piece of playground equipment. The girl came home crying that she was hurt, and my neighbor rushed her nine-year old daughter to the hospital. Doctors put a cast on the girl’s arm, and eventually she healed. Because of this incident, a police officer came to question the mother to find out if there was a case of child abuse in the home. The officer determined that there was not, and that was the end of the investigation.
My neighbor remembered this vividly, and it was well-known in this neighborhood that when any accident happens, police can get involved. In another case, my other neighbor came home from drinking with friends a bit tipsy and injured his arm when he fell on the wire gate. Police officers subsequently interviewed his wife to find out if there had been any domestic violence.
Both my neighbor who took her daughter to the hospital and my neighbor whose husband injured his arm are undocumented. If Chicago police were to co-operate with immigration law enforcement agents, people in immigrant communities may think twice about calling an ambulance or taking their loved ones to the hospital if an injury were to take place.
Another important issue is domestic violence. A young man I interviewed in Guatemala, Cedric, was deported because his wife, a US citizen, and the mother of their two children, called the police when they got into a shouting match. She did not know that the police would check his immigration status. Had she known, she likely would not have called the police. In their case, the charge of domestic violence appears to be false; the wife rescinded the charges. However, it is likely that other women who are victims of serious domestic violence may be disinclined to call the police if they know their partners will be deported.
287(g) allows police officers to notify immigration agents whenever they encounter a person they suspect to be undocumented. One deportee in Guatemala recounted to me that a Florida police officer called immigration agents when he was involved in a minor car accident in a parking lot. That phone call led to his deportation, despite the fact that he is married to a US citizen and has US citizen children. It is easy to imagine that 287(g) will lead to more hit and runs, as undocumented migrants involved in car accidents will fear that any encounter with a police officer could lead to their deportation.
287(g) does not lead to safer communities; to the contrary, it decreases community-level security and heightens tensions between law enforcement and community members.
This program continues to expand, creating fear in immigrant communities, and leading to the deportation of long-term residents of the United States, many of whom have spouses and children who are US citizens. This does not enhance national security; it weakens it.
TANYA GOLASH-BOZA is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas, author of the forthcoming book: “Immigration Nation?” and blogs at http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com/. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.