An array of state and local law enforcement officials and organizations are demanding federal action on immigration reform. Leaders in law enforcement from across the nation are pointing to the broken immigration system’s impact on community policing and public safety, and asking to be part of the effort to develop a lasting immigration solution for America.
The calls to action from state and local law enforcement leaders follow the June White House meeting on immigration, where the President and Members of Congress discussed the urgent need for comprehensive reform. At that meeting, President Obama asked DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead a working group of legislators in developing a plan to reform the immigration system. As a former border state governor, Secretary Napolitano should listen closely to the perspective of state and local police on the ground. The number one job of police-fighting crime and protecting the community-is made that much harder when potential victims or witnesses refuse to come forward out of fear of deportation.
The recent news of plans to revamp DHS’ controversial 287(g) program is the latest indication that our current approach to immigration enforcement at the local level does not properly distinguish between criminals and the broader immigrant community, with disastrous consequences for community policing. While the overhauled 287(g) program may be a step in the right direction – important details have yet to be provided – the surefire way to restore the rule of law and help all residents integrate into our communities is comprehensive immigration reform. This reform would include strong border security measures, effective interior enforcement, and a program to require the millions of immigrants who are here illegally to get right with the law. Read on for more on this from the police perspective:
- A recent event in Miami featured major city police chiefs advocating for immigration reform. Chief John Timoney, Miami’s Chief of Police; Chief Art Acevedo, the Police Chief of Austin, TX; and former Sacramento Police Chief Art Venegas discussed the challenges to public safety when immigrant residents fear contact with law enforcement. Chief Timoney said “It is crucial that the law enforcement perspective be considered in any debate on immigration. All our citizens are directly affected, whether they are immigrants or not, by these policies. Immigrant victims and witnesses of violent crimes will not come forward if they fear their ‘local police’ will deport them.” Chief Acevedo said, “Comprehensive immigration reform will lead to enhanced safety and security for everyone.” Chief Venegas stated, “Law enforcement resources are stretched to the limit. We can’t afford to have any segment of our residents afraid of us or fail to trust us because when that occurs, the entire community, regardless of status, suffers and victimization increases. We need comprehensive immigration reform.”
- Several weeks earlier, chiefs from a cross-section of the United States – Austin, TX; Topeka, KS; and North Charleston, SC – joined voices to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the problems with our current approach to immigration policy. Chief Ron Miller of Topeka, KS stated, “The mission of local police is to reduce crime, make neighborhoods safer, arrest those who break the law by committing criminal violations and to protect the community. We cannot police a community that will not talk to us.” Chief Jon Zumalt of North Charleston, SC noted that the key elements of comprehensive reform “are controlling our borders so we have knowledge of anybody who is coming into our country. The next step is making sure we can document and identify everybody who is in our country. And the next step is those whom we identify who are criminals, we’ve got to get them deported.” And Chief Art Acevedo of Austin, TX said “Comprehensive immigration reform is not only the right thing to do from a humanistic standpoint, but also a public-safety standpoint.”
- In May,the Police Foundation released a report with recommendations resulting from a year-long study of how immigration responsibilities have impacted state and local law enforcement and harmed community policing efforts. The report found that “local law enforcement executives say civil immigration enforcement by local police undermines their core public safety mission, diverts scarce resources, increases their exposure to liability and litigation, and exacerbates fear in our communities.” The report and its recommendations were unveiled at a Capitol Hill press conference featuring Hubert Williams, the President of the Police Foundation; Chief Theron Bowman of Arlington, TX; Chief Harold Hurtt of Houston, TX; Chief Jose Lopez of Durham, NC; Chief Ron Miller of Topeka, KS; and Chief Toussaint E. Summers, Jr. of Herndon, VA.
- The National Latino Peace Officers Association (NLPOA), the largest minority law enforcement organization in the nation, passed a resolution in May calling on Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The resolution stated that “the NLPOA seeks to be part of the national policy discussion and design of the comprehensive reformation of our national immigration laws so that all people within the United States of America can become participants in our democracy while making our country safer and that Congress and the President should bring about these reforms sooner rather than later because they are in the best interest of our country.”
- In April, Gregory Allen, Chief of El Paso, TX Police Department, and Richard Wiles, El Paso’s County Sheriff, along with Toussaint E. Summers Jr., the Chief of Police in Herndon, VA and Jon Zumalt, Chief of North Charleston, SC Police Department, sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Immigration Subcommittee calling on the federal government to “enact a comprehensive immigration law that secures the borders and legalizes immigrants who are working without papers.” The chiefs further stated that, “From a law enforcement point of view, we need to know who is here in our country, get them documented, weed out the bad apples, and ensure that we never face another build-up of illegal immigration again. We need a national immigration policy that punishes human smugglers and others who profit from our broken immigration system, ensures that all residents of our community feel safe reporting crimes and working with the police, and allows state and local police to focus on job number one: protecting all members of our communities from crime.”
- The Washington State Sheriff’s Association also sent a letter to Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) noting that the “lack of a coherent national immigration policy has created chaos in our communities and made the job of law enforcement much harder,” and calling on Washington to “pass federal immigration reform as soon as possible as we serve our country and our communities on the front line every day.”
- J. Thomas Manger, the Montgomery County, MD Police Chief and Chairman of the Major Cities Chiefs Association’s Legislative Committee, provided testimony before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee in late April during which he called for comprehensive immigration reform, stating “It is tremendously challenging to deliver police service to a community of people who are afraid to have any contact with the police. The results are an increase in unreported crime, reluctant victims and witnesses, and the targeting of immigrants by criminals because the bad guys know that many immigrants will not call the police. It is imperative that we find a way to bring these people out of the shadows so that they get the service they need and deserve.”
- In July, Chief Chris Burbank, Police Chief of Salt Lake City, UT, authored an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune that called for immigration reform and criticized a new statewide law in Utah that burdens local police with responsibility for immigration enforcement. Chief Burbank stated that “the essential duty of modern law enforcement is to protect the civil rights of individuals while providing for the safety of all members of the communities we serve, equally, without bias. 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. We function best when we are part of, not apart from, the community.” He also said that “the federal government needs to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to truly fix the problem and relieve the burden on state and local police.”
- Also in July, Kalamazoo, MI Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley released a draft written policy that prohibits police in his city from checking the immigration status of individuals stopped for traffic violations and nonviolent crimes. Underscoring the need for the new policy, Chief Hadley stated that “We have people in our community living in the shadows, afraid to come out and seek out help.” As the Kalamazoo Gazette wrote in an editorial praising the new policy, “Chief Hadley’s position should not be construed to mean that he’s not in favor of controlling immigration. What is relevant is his sensitivity and keen awareness that many undocumented residents are afraid to report crimes to his department, even if they are victims. Moreover, budget constraints at all levels of government have resulted in the need to focus the limited resources of law enforcement. Kalamazoo’s police have enough to do in dealing with all types of crime, enforcing traffic laws and other ordinances without taking on the burden of becoming involved in the immigration dilemma. There’s also a practical side to this issue. If, with impunity, undocumented residents can report offenses to the authorities, the entire community could see a long-term plus in crime reduction.”