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Law Enforcement Officials Take A Stand Against Secure Communities and SAFE Act

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Two of the most inaccurately named public policies have to be “Secure Communities” and the “SAFE Act.” Neither keeps communities secure or safe. Instead, they breed fear and profiling. And, some law enforcement officials are taking a stand against them, including one, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who used to be on the other side.

Immigration advocates in New Orleans have done amazing work with their local law enforcement officials to end the climate of fear resulting from Secured Communities, a policy of the federal government that undermines communities. Here’s an excellent telling of that story from Aura Bogado at Colorlines:

The Congress of Day Laborers had been organizing since 2010 to get Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to stop cooperating with ICE on the detainers. So far, more than a dozen cities, counties and states around the nation have already stopped collaborating with ICE to hold anyone who doesn’t pose a real threat to their community—but the majority of those have been symbolic victories in places where local and state officials have not held many people on detainers to begin with.

In New Orleans, however, where immigrants moved in to help rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina eight years ago, the local community has been hit hard by S-Comm. “Members started realizing that the only real integration [into New Orleans] was taking place in the criminal justice system,” says Gonzalez.

For years, it seemed that Sheriff Gusman wouldn’t budge. Gonzalez says the sheriff explained that his agency had no choice but to participate in S-Comm, which is true. Yet by law, ICE detainers are carried out voluntarily. On top of that, the federal government has unilaterally decided that it will not incur the administration and housing costs related to detaining people in local and state jails under S-Comm; those detainers eat up funds in a state that arguably still hasn’t recovered from Katrina. Pending lawsuits this year, as well as a city council resolution against ICE detainers passed in May pressured Gusman to change his internal policy—but to no avail. That changed this month, however, when the sheriff became the first in the South to stop cooperating with ICE detainers, except for serious criminal cases, such as murder and rape.

Gusman wasn’t available for comment, but Gonzalez says that it wasn’t until the sheriff started talking to people who were directly affected by S-Comm that he started to reconsider the way his agency was keeping the people he was sworn to protect in a constant state of fear. Addressing a state senator who was angry with the sheriff’s decision, Gusman explained that his new “policy is about freedom and fairness,” that protects Constitutional rights, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. He also cited “the cavalier nature” of ICE requests.

In a newly released video, the sheriff is seen attending one of the Congress of Day Laborers meetings, listening to harrowing stories before helping close the meeting by shouting, “No papers! No fear!” That a sheriff in the deep South is shouting a slogan coined and used by the immigrant rights movement indicates just how much work has been done to change the way at least some in law enforcement are thinking about immigration.

And though the policy change is new, Gonzalez says the community is already feeling the difference that comes with the trust and comfort of knowing that their local sheriff isn’t playing into a flawed program that, instead of making people safer, was tearing a community apart.

The video is worth watching:

No papers. No fear. And, that came from a sheriff who at one time “wouldn’t budge.” But, Marlin Gusman listened to his community and learned what S-COMM was doing. And, he changed.

On the opposite end of this spectrum is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Instead of building a community, Arpaio has created a climate of fear. He and his anti-immigrant cronies have given Arizona and Maricopa County a black eye.

Meanwhile, on the legislative front, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing legislation inaccurately called the “SAFE” Act, by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and others, including Reps. Michele Bachmann.

Instead of promoting what most Americans support — a path to citizenship — Rep. Goodlatte and his ilk want the opposite. They are trying to make Joe Arpaio’s “Show me Your Papers” law from Arizona the law of the land.

Unlike Joe Arpaio, who has a long history of racial profiling, other law enforcement professionals are speaking out against this discriminatory legislation. Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed by Eduardo Gonzalez, who spent 34 years in law enforcement including a 5 1/2 stint as director of the U.S. Marshals Service:

Because of my continuing commitment to the concept of community-based policing, I am deeply concerned that the House of Representatives is considering the so-called SAFE Act, a draconian immigration enforcement bill that authorizes states and localities to write and enforce their own immigration laws.

In jurisdictions that have adopted policies such as the SAFE Act, the result has been law enforcement officers questioning the immigration status of everyone they encounter, including crime victims and witnesses. In my opinion, this practice would seriously damage the law enforcement-community relationship which has been built up over many years in communities with large immigrant populations.

That’s why I believe the SAFE Act would be a disaster, a fact also recognized by the Major City Chiefs Association, which represents the 56 largest U.S. cities, including Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. Rather than enhance public safety, the SAFE Act will undermine it by destroying community-based policing efforts. Equally important in these austere times, the assumption of federal law enforcement duties by local law enforcement will place additional strains on community budgets and local taxpayers, diverting precious police resources away from fighting local crime. I believe it will also contribute to racial and ethnic profiling that alienates minorities and exposes police departments to legal liability.

Contributing to racial and ethnic profiling has been mainstay for Joe Arpaio. It’s despicable that House Republicans would follow his lead.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Eduardo Gonzalez see the future and fairness – and they make communities safer and more secure.