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The Cost of Sanctuary

There is no sanctuary so holy that money cannot profane it, no fortress so strong that money cannot take it by storm–Cicero

 

Everyday in the U.S. a countless number of crimes go unreported by illegal residents and legal residents of immigrant communities who fear deportation just for calling on the police for help. Many local police departments around the country have invoked a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ they promote to illegal residents in hopes they will come to them when victimized or as witnesses to crime. To the detriment of this progress, new laws are being passed that use financial gains and penalties to pressure local law enforcement to take on the role of federal immigration officers. According to these laws, police officers may soon be encouraged to arrest and ascertain the legal status of anyone they come in contact with, be it a victim of crime, a witness, or you if you happen to look ‘foreign’ enough. Without some sort of protection by the law, from the law, in the form of amnesty or leniency, fewer immigrants will report crimes and fewer criminals will be taken off the streets.

Section 287(g) was passed as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Approved by Congress, it states that local police officers may act as federal officials and interrogate and detain immigrants whether or not they have committed a crime in order to determine their legal status. Police departments are encouraged to participate in these programs and receive federal funding to train their officers to become honorary Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents. ICE was established in March 2003 as an extension of the Department of Homeland Security.

The new law that will change the way police officers respond to situations involving foreigners was sponsored by Republican presidential candidate and voracious immigration opponent Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and is also supported by former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The U.S. House approved his plan this past June which now only awaits Bush’s signature. To complement 287(g), and still abiding by the ‘with us or against us’ mentality, Tancredo has proposed that federal emergency funding through the Homeland Security Department should be denied to so called ‘sanctuary cities’ whose law departments don’t arrest and report all encounters with possible ‘illegal’ residents.

It is already standard procedure for most local law officials to check the identifications of anyone involved in a criminal matter, whether they’re a suspect, a witness, or a victim. If their status is revealed as illegal then under the new law enforcing 287(g) the police must arrest them and turn them over to the INS. In the end, the victim gets punished and the criminal gets away. Free to move on to their next prey, the criminal often targets another immigrant that will more than likely avoid contacting the police.

To avoid this lack of trust from our large immigrant community, and well before 287(g) was in place, the 1992 Houston Police Chief Sam Nuchia followed suit of other cities around the country and issued an order stating that officers were not allowed to check the immigration status of those that were not under arrest, and the order still stands.

After 9/11, even more intense pressure was put on local police chiefs to crack down on illegal immigration in their communities. However, not all were on board to do so and several chiefs went on record as to why.

[Noting that the mission of police is to prevent and solve crimes] “It would be virtually impossible to do that effectively if witnesses and victims, no matter what their residency status, had some reluctance to come forward for fear of being deported.” Tom Needham, Former General Counsel & Chief of Staff Chicago Police Department, Illinois. Chicago Tribune, 4/14/02

“We’ve been trying to get the immigrants in our town to believe that we’re not like many of the governments in their old countries, governments that were corrupt and wanted to railroad them, not serve them.” Sgt. Robert Francaviglia, Hillsdale Police Department, New Jersey. Bergen Record, 4/22/02

“We can’t and won’t throw our scarce resources at quasi-political, vaguely criminal, constitutionally questionable, nor any other evolving issues or unfunded mandates that aren’t high priorities with our citizenry.” Chief Theron Bowman, Arlington Police Department, Texas. (Dallas Morning News, 4/5/02)

A change in this same stance once held by HPD was fueled by the shooting death of Officer Rodney Johnson who was killed by an illegal immigrant the 21st of last September. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt decried that a change was in the air and his force would begin working more closely with ICE. In a 2006 interview with CNN’s Lou Dobbs, Hurtt described the process.

“Anybody that we come across that is going to be booked into our jail or either the county jail, Harris County Jail, and they’ve been arrested by the Houston police department, we’re going to be asking them, were you born in the U.S. and are you a U.S. citizen? Depending on their response, we’ll put that into the booking blotter and now ICE, that is Immigration Custom Enforcement (sic), have full access to the Houston police department, county jail, city jail, and they’ll be able to go in, look at those booking slips and take whatever action they deem necessary with those individuals.”

Opponents of illegal immigration, such as the Minutemen and former Houston city councilman Mark Ellis (who was rear-ended in early 2005 by an illegal immigrant and furious that the cop wouldn’t arrest him at once) define this lack of scrutiny as the actions of a sanctuary city. Later that year, Ellis tried to get city council to force the hand of HPD to overturn the unwritten ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding immigrants. A whopping dozen people showed up in support of his motion. Whipping out his ever trusty 9//11 card in a publicity stunt/interview with Channel 11 News’ Doug Miller, he stated:

“”We’ve had some rapists here in the city of Houston that were illegal immigrants,” says City Council Member Mark Ellis. “We know that some of the terrorists that attacked New York back on September 11, 2001, we know that they were illegal immigrants. And so, when do we say enough is enough?”

Chief Hurtt’s stance on not training local officers to become ICE agents is that he doesn’t have the authority or the resources and isn’t getting paid enough to do the Feds’ job for them.

“I can only concentrate on what’s happening here in the city limits of Houston and do the very best we possible can here. Those issues that are based upon national efforts and international efforts, those are, as someone said, above my pay grade.”

It hardly sounds like he is concerned with maintaining the fragile trust bridged between the law and immigrant communities as long as the price is right.

And with the new law threatening to deny emergency funding to ‘sanctuary cities’, the ante has been upped, for Houston will soon have to choose between making or losing money based on HPD’s attitude towards working with ICE. There could be a change of heart among the local officials who would feel the pinch if the city lost funding, especially those who already feel they are underpaid. We will see more aggressive background checks by police officers to determine the legal status of anyone in contact with the law, including victims and witnesses and possibly random pedestrians who just look suspiciously dark-skinned. Next stop, checkpoints.

Undocumented citizens get carjacked, burglarized, domestically abused, forced into servitude, raped, and murdered, yet they have nowhere to turn to for help without risking the loss of what they’ve established here. A simple amendment to our laws should be instated providing amnesty from arrest or deportation due to status to anyone reporting a crime. This should also apply to legal citizens that have an arrest warrant out for a petty offense, such as missing a court date or owing traffic fines. This would give a voice back to those who must choose between arrest and/or deportation or remaining silent when faced with crime.

Without an extension of a compassionate law protecting those we call illegal, the cycle of crime will continue to grow until it reaches our own doorsteps. There are no perfect crimes except for the ones that are never reported.

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