Safety First Secure CommunitiesLocal and national immigration experts spoke on a call with reporters to relate stories and highlight concerns that Secure Communities and other police-immigration collaboration efforts are destroying the relationship between police and immigrants and making communities across the country less safe.  The federal Secure Communities (S-Comm) program has come under fire from law enforcement, elected officials, and immigrant advocates from across the country for its lack of focus and dangerous impacts on community security.  

As we reported earlier today, the Arlington, Virginia community is scheduled to speak out tonight about this damaging program in the final field hearing of Department of Homeland Security Secure Communities Task Force.  The Task Force is a non-governmental body convened by DHS to examine the program and make recommendations to improve it. 

During the press call, America’s Voice Education Fund (AVEF) released a new report, Public Safety on ICE: How Do You Police a Community That Won’t Talk to You?”, documenting how immigration enforcement by local police creates a “chilling effect” in immigrant communities, making victims and witnesses of crimes afraid to get help from cops who might deport them. The report includes cases from community advocates and law enforcement officials, demonstrating that the “chilling effect” is being felt in communities around the country as a result of Secure Communities and other policies that blur the distinction between local police and federal immigration agents. Here’s one example that Flequer J. Vera-Olcese from the AMOS Project in Cincinnati, Ohio, shared of a recent case.  The example illustrates how pervasive the fear of police is in immigrant communities: 

Fifteen year-old Laura, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and a special-needs child, was kidnapped and raped.  When Laura turned up missing, her parents were afraid to go immediately to the police and instead investigated on their own.  After several days they found Laura, and her mother took her to the police so she could report what had happened.  More than a month later, the family remains afraid of following-up with the police, seesawing through a mix of emotions.  While they want justice for their daughter, they also fear that multiple contacts with the police could lead to the entire family’s deportation.:

Criminals should be afraid of the police. Immigrants should NOT be.  Programs that involve state and local police in immigration enforcement—like S-Comm and 287(g)—are destroying the relationship between police and the immigrant community.  These programs violate the core principles of community policing because they make immigrants afraid of having any contact with the police.  This means immigrants are less likely to report crimes, more criminals go free, and entire communities are less safe. (For more on this, read Lynn Tramonte’s blog post, “‘Secure Communities’ Leads to Insecure Communities”.)

Enforcing our point, Alexsa Alonzo, Associate Director of Advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said:

Using local law enforcement efforts as a gateway to immigration enforcement erodes immigrant communities’ trust in the police and local governments and makes us less safe.  Police are perceived as no longer just protecting public safety but also as enforcing immigration law.

“Fear of police in immigrant communities along the U.S.-Canada border is palpable and only heightened by Border Patrol’s increased collaboration with local law enforcement,” said OneAmerica Policy Director, Ada Williams Prince. “Put simply, immigrants stop calling the police during emergencies when they know that Border Patrol will follow close behind.”
The call also featured Marisa Vertrees, Social Justice Coordinator of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, who has been working with members of the community to prepare for tonight’s Task Force hearing.  Like earlier field hearings in Dallas, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and Chicago, IL, the Arlington hearing will no doubt demonstrate the level of frustration and fear that Secure Communities has caused in immigrant communities.  Arlington County has been trying to opt-out of the program, but has been unable to do so because of the federal government’s mandate that all cities and states participate.
According to Vertrees: “Through our work with the immigrant community, we in the faith community have seen the harm that local enforcement does to the community.  Tonight at the hearing we will bring forward the stories we have heard from families who have been torn apart by overly aggressive enforcement programs, as well as immigrants, both documented and not, who are now afraid to deal with the police and are forced to live in the shadows. And because for the first and only time translation services will be available at the hearing, the Task Force will have the chance to hear these stories from the immigrant community themselves.  We hope that bringing forward what we have seen will convince the administration to end the deeply flawed Secure Communities program.”