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Law Enforcement Leaders to Politicians: Let Us Do Our Jobs

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Voices on the Ground Push Back Against Counterproductive and Dangerous Immigration Enforcement Measures

As the federal government and state legislatures try to expand the role of police in civil immigration enforcement, state and local police are pushing back.  In Texas, Illinois, California, and elsewhere, law enforcement leaders are speaking out against proposals to gut their community policing policies and require them to participate in the Secure Communities program.  They believe these initiatives make it harder for them to protect the public from crime, and they are calling on lawmakers to stop imposing their political agendas on them and let state and local police do their jobs. 

In Texas, law enforcement voices are leading the charge against proposed state legislation to bar so-called “sanctuary cities,” noting that the legislation would make it harder for police to get information about crimes and bring dangerous criminals to justice.  Austin, TX Police Chief Art Acevedo wrote in a new op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman that “If local police officers start doubling as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, we will lose the trust of our immigrant community and weaken our ability to solve crimes…I call upon state lawmakers to allow law enforcement leaders to set criminal justice priorities that reflect the needs and values of their local communities.”  Similarly, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles noted, “We have to really concentrate our efforts here in El Paso on the criminal element … so that we can try our best to prevent an escalation of violence like you do see in Juarez.  If we’re being pulled away from that to address an economic immigrant … that’s another agency’s responsibility.  And they already have plenty of agents, let me tell you. The Border Patrol in this county has much more resources than I’ll ever have.”

At the federal level, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) has introduced a similar proposal to deny funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.”  Unfortunately for him, there is a long history of pushback from state and local police against this misguided and dangerous idea. 

Other recent pushback from law enforcement has focused on the federal Secure Communities program.  San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey wrote in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, “My main criticism of Secure Communities is that it casts too wide a net and scoops up the fingerprints of everyone not born in the United States whether or not they pose a criminal risk.  My department has consistently reported felons to ICE for more than a decade, and ICE typically picks up close to 1,000 people from the San Francisco County Jail each year. But I don’t think people should be deported for a traffic ticket or for operating a tamale cart in the Mission.”  Washington, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier similarly noted, “In the case of domestic violence, or if it is a minor misdemeanor case, there is a concern people will not come forward and report it,” if immigration status checks accompanied all contact with police.  Indeed, some victims of domestic violence have already been swept up by the Secure Communities dragnet, lending credence and urgency to the concerns voiced by local law enforcement.    

The state of Illinois, led by Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL), recently issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this week terminating its participation in this ineffective and counterproductive program.  In his letter to DHS, Governor Quinn wrote that, despite the stated purpose of Secure Communities to remove serious criminals, “more than 30% of those deported from the United States, under the program, have never been convicted of any crime, much less a serious one.”

However the actual voices of law enforcement and negative experiences of communities dealing with these programs are not enough to persuade certain policymakers.  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who along with Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and Steve King (R-IA) is one of the Three Amigos driving anti-immigration policy in Congress, seems to think he knows law enforcement policy better than actual police leaders.  According to Smith, “Opposition to this program endangers Americans.” 

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, “State and local, not politicians in Washington, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to policies that impact their daily work.  When they say an immigration program hurts their ability to solve crimes and protect the public from dangerous individuals, politicians should listen, not ram a political agenda down their throats.  Until Reps. Lamar Smith and Lou Barletta complete the police training academy and actually walk the beat, I trust Sheriff Hennessey, Chief Acevedo, Chief Lanier, and others to tell us what is effective law enforcement policy and the best way to fight crime.”   

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.