Har­ford’s de­por­ta­tion pa­trol

Our view: When sher­iff’s deputies act as ICE agents, they un­der­mine public safety

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Dur­ing the cur­rent elec­tion, there has been much talk about crime com­mit­ted by il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Don­ald Trump and many other Repub­li­cans would have peo­ple be­lieve that the 11 mil­lion or so un­doc­u­mented peo­ple liv­ing within our bor­ders are a ma­jor, per­haps even pri­mary, source of vi­o­lent crime. “They’re not send­ing us their best,” Mr. Trump fa­mously said about peo­ple com­ing from Mex­ico last year. “They’re bring­ing drugs. They’re bring­ing crime. They’re rapists.”

This is, of course, patently un­true, a pants-on-fire pre­var­i­ca­tion as fact-check­ers like to say. While yes, there are cer­tainly im­mi­grants, il­le­gal or oth­er­wise, who com­mit se­ri­ous crimes (as there are in any group of hu­man be­ings), stud­ies have shown that im­mi­grants, no mat­ter their le­gal sta­tus, are less likely to break the law than peo­ple who are born and raised in the U.S. In­deed, the rise in the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants af­ter 1990 co­in­cides with a de­clin­ing rate of vi­o­lent crime in this coun­try, a point FBI sta­tis­tics eas­ily con­firm.

Given this re­al­ity, it’s dis­ap­point­ing to hear that the Har­ford County sher­iff’s of­fice has signed up for the con­tro­ver­sial U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) pro­gram that au­tho­rizes deputies to check the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of peo­ple it de­tains. On the sur­face, this seems quite rea­son­able. Why not help en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws? But it’s ac­tu­ally quite de­struc­tive and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive when lo­cal po­lice are per­ceived as ICE en­forcers.

Why? Be­cause when lo­cal po­lice are im­mi­gra­tion en­forcers, peo­ple in the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity im­me­di­ately be­come wary of hav­ing any con­tact with them. Vic­tims, wit­nesses, in­no­cent by­s­tanders, no­body wants a chance en­counter with law en­force­ment to mean they’ll be locked up and pos­si­bly de­ported. As a re­sult, more se­ri­ous crimes may­goun­re­ported or un­solved — and that should be a lot more trou­bling to Har­ford County res­i­dents than whether some­one is liv­ing in Bel Air on an ex­pired tourist or stu­dent visa.

Un­for­tu­nately, co­op­er­at­ing with the ICE has be­come a source of rev­enue for lo­cal po­lice agen­cies. Fed­eral re­im­burse­ment to cover de­tain­ment costs can be a pow­er­ful in­cen­tive. That’s not just in Fred­er­ick and Har­ford coun­ties, the only two Mary­land sub­di­vi­sions that have taken on 287(g) au­thor­ity, but also in Anne Arun­del where au­thor­i­ties are con­tem­plat­ing al­low­ing the ICE to house de­tainees at the county jail in re­turn for a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive com­pen­sa­tion. That, again, sends a sig­nal that lo­cal law en­force­ment is hos­tile to­ward im­mi­grants, un­doc­u­mented or oth­er­wise.

Is fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy bro­ken? Ab­so­lutely. But the an­swer is not a crack­down on the lo­cal level. It’s for Con­gress to fi­nally adopt a sen­si­ble ver­sion of im­mi­gra­tion re­form that of­fers hard­work­ing, oth­er­wise law-abid­ing peo­ple a path to le­gal sta­tus. That’s what Ron­ald Rea­gan signed into law ex­actly 30 years ago as of this com­ing Sun­day — an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple who had en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally to stay here legally by pay­ing a fine and back taxes and pro­vid­ing proof they were not guilty of crimes.

Un­for­tu­nately, it’s far too easy for ir­re­spon­si­ble can­di­dates for public of­fice to dem­a­gogue on this is­sue, tap­ping public dis­trust and ra­cial fears and blam­ing im­mi­grants not only for crime but for a host of other prob­lems. Anger to­ward and marginal­iz­ing of im­mi­grants has a long and not-so-proud his­tory in this coun­try de­spite the fact that, ac­cord­ing to the last U.S. Cen­sus, about 13 per­cent of us are for­eign-born. Nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens are even pro­hib­ited from be­com­ing pres­i­dent — an odd relic of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion that gave rise to the birther move­ment against Barack Obama in which Mr. Trump played a high-pro­file role.

Still, no mat­ter where one stands on the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, it’s pretty clear that the role of keep­ing com­mu­ni­ties safe is far more im­por­tant than check­ing pa­per­work. Bet­ter for lo­cal po­lice and sher­iff’s de­part­ments to stick to in­ves­ti­gat­ing and solv­ing crimes than be­com­ing pawns in a bit­ter na­tional pol­icy dis­pute. That doesn’t in­volve en­ter­ing into deals with ICE, it means as­sur­ing lo­cal im­mi­grants that of­fi­cers are not fed­eral agents sweep­ing through schools or churches or gro­cery stores or res­tau­rant kitchens round­ing up peo­ple who may be in the coun­try il­le­gally. Un­der­min­ing im­mi­grant trust in po­lice of­fi­cers sim­ply doesn’t make any­one safer.

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