By Jaime Omar Yassin
City and police officials across the country are realizing that adding immigration enforcement to police duties not be as good an idea as it once seemed. Increasing local resistance to the federal Secure Communities program, which shares fingerprints of all arrestees with immigration control, has produced at least one political casualty. A little over a week after criticizing Providence’s Public Safety Commissioner for requesting clarification from the Justice Department on the “opt out” procedure for the program, State Police Superintendent Brendan P. Dougherty has resigned. Officials in Rhode Island–like the governor and the mayor of Providence–have been skeptical of the program, which some say is a dragnet for rounding up undocumented immigrants.
Dougherty had been Superintendent for just two weeks, but ran into trouble once his pro-Secure Communities stance became public.
The resignation comes on the heels of a report issued by the Police Executive Research Forum—a national research and advocacy organization of progressive police administrators—detailing increasing wariness of local police and city officials to mix immigration control with policing. Despite listing fairly centrist recommendations for national immigration policy, the report nevertheless takes a sharp view on programs like Secure Communities and 287(g), a program that deputizes police as immigration agents. The report recommends that local police forces be “prohibited from arresting or detaining persons for the sole purpose of investigating their immigration status” and that “officers should arrest” perpetrators “without regard to the immigration status of the alleged perpetrator or victim.” The recommendations go to the heart of the two most controversial aspects of Secure Communities that have led many observers to conclude that victims of crimes, including domestic violence, may be reluctant to contact police, for fear of arrest on immigration violations. Camila Hayes at the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence told the California Report that increased anxiety over immigration status caused by the Secure Communities program would cause victims to be “more likely to stay with an abusive partner.”
The PERF report also notes, specifically in the case of New Haven, CT, and Prince William County, VA, that immigrants are often more likely to be crime victims, and that their discomfort with police could make them increased targets of opportunity.
Participants at a Policing and Immigration community forum in Fruitvale on Saturday, March 5, brought up other unintended consequences of the S-Comm program, noting that it sews confusion and doubt about local government institutions and services. Documented and undocumented family members may hesitate to seek food and cash assistance from the county and may balk at taking unscrupulous landlords to court. The forum was sponsored by the No on S-Comm in Alameda County Coalition.
Michelle Kuo, a staff attorney at Centro Legal de La Raza and forum participant, echoed these concerns. “SComm makes it inevitable that immigrants will associate the police with deportation, not public safety,” Kuo said.
Kuo was hopeful, however, that police opposition to such programs can ultimately turn the tide. “I think one powerful strategy for organizers would be to identify police officers who are opposed to SComm and help give voice to their experiences.” Kuo said. “Scomm creates a culture of fear in the immigrant community that makes people afraid to report crimes or cooperate with investigations. SComm is the ultimate misnomer, and there are police officers who understand this intimately.”
Jaime Omar Yassin is an Oakland writer and founding blogger at Hyphenated-Republic.