For this reason, scores of cities and police departments have formal policies in place that limit their role in immigration enforcement. To them, a person’s status as a crime victim or witness is more important than their visa status. But increasingly, lawmakers are bringing immigration politics into police departments, encouraging and even requiring state and local police to assist in the deportation of people who have not been convicted of crimes. When local police get involved in immigration enforcement, any person who comes into contact with local police—whether convicted of a crime or not—can have his or her immigration status checked, and be put into deportation proceedings if he or she turns out to be undocumented. This is destroying the relationship between police and the immigrant community, scaring immigrants away from having any contact with the police, and undermining public safety for all.
Although some police-Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collaboration programs are described as targeting foreign-born criminals, their scope is often much broader. For example, the Secure Communities program has recently come under fire from law enforcement, crime victim advocates, Members of Congress, and community leaders because it goes far beyond its stated goal of targeting dangerous criminals. Secure Communities facilitates immigration status checks of thousands of people who have contact with the local police, whether they were arrested for a heinous crime or stopped for a traffic violation. As it’s been expanded rapidly under the Obama Administration, it has brought immigration enforcement into thousands of police departments across the country. Government statistics show that as of June 2011, more than a quarter (28%) of the immigrants who have been deported through Secure Communities have not committed any crime. Fifty-nine percent have either committed no crime or were charged with low-level offenses, such as traffic violations.
Secure Communities and the related DHS program known as 287(g), Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law and similar state bills, and the “inherent authority” doctrine first implemented by the Bush Administration (which asserted that local police have the “inherent authority” to enforce federal civil immigration laws) all undermine the relationship between police and the immigrant community. They undercut the top priority of state and local police: protecting the public from crime and criminals.
This report reviews research by academics and advocates, the perspectives of law enforcement leaders, and stories from around the country that illustrate how the relationship between police and immigrants is harmed by programs like Secure Communities. It also provides ideas for rebuilding that relationship and putting public safety ahead of immigration politics. ..."