The Effect of Police Involvement with Immigration Enforcement
With the current policy attention to immigration reform, the enforcement of immigration measures raises concerns for many Latinos. Overall, they agree that local police forces should not be involved in immigration enforcement and that those tasks should be the responsibility of the federal government.
When Congress enacted section 278(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Secure Communities”) in 1996, it expanded the role of state and local law enforcement in immigration matters. The resulting increase in enforcement has disproportionately affected Latinos, who comprise 93 percent of those arrested through Secure Communities, but 77 percent of the undocumented population (Kohli, Markowitz, & Chavez, 2011). A 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey asked Hispanic registered voters about immigration enforcement, and more than four-fifths of the respondents (81 percent) said that immigration enforcement should be left mainly to the federal authorities instead of actively involving local police (Lopez & Minushkin, 2008). The 2007 Pew National Survey of Latinos found that while 45 percent of non-Hispanics wanted local police actively involved in identifying illegal immigrants, only 14 percent of Hispanics concurred (see figure 1) (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007). It is clear that Latinos overwhelmingly want their local police forces to stay out of immigration enforcement.
The 2010 Pew Hispanic Center National Survey of Latinos found that 77 percent of Latinos believe that enforcing immigration laws should be the “exclusive responsibility of federal authorities.” Exploring views among the slice of Latinos who favor a more active role by local police in immigration enforcement reveals interesting differences among subgroups. The native born are nearly twice as likely as the foreign born to favor a greater police role—19 percent versus 11 percent. Among the English dominant, nearly one in four (24 percent) of English-dominant Latinos hold that view compared with just one in ten (10 percent) of Spanish-dominant Latinos, with the bilinguals falling in between (15 percent) (Lopez, Morin, & Taylor, 2010).
A 2013 survey of Latinos in several southwestern counties looked at perceptions of law enforcement authorities in light of the greater involvement of police in immigration enforcement, arguing that a reduction in public safety results from increased mistrust of police by Latinos. The study found that 38 percent of Latinos reported feeling like they are under more suspicion since local law enforcement authorities became more involved in immigration enforcement in 1996. Forty-four percent of respondents said they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been a victim of a crime out of fear that law enforcement authorities will take advantage of an opportunity to ask about their immigration status or that of others. That share was 28 percent among U.S.-born respondents, increased slightly among foreign-born respondents (49 percent), and skyrocketed to 70 percent among the undocumented. (see figure 2) (Theodore, 2013).
Similar results came from asking whether they are less likely to report or voluntarily offer information about crimes they know have been committed for fear of being asked about immigration status. Thirty-eight percent reported feeling like they are under more suspicion now that local law enforcement authorities have become involved in immigration enforcement, and 56 percent disagreed with the statement “I feel safer knowing local law enforcement is involved in immigration enforcement.” Theodore argues that increased police involvement with immigration enforcement leads to Latinos’ isolation and disconnectedness from police, withdrawal, and diminished sense of public safety in their communities (Theodore, 2013).
Photo courtesy of ICE.
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