No Sanctuary? The Unintended Consequences of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement

Editor’s Note: This essay is part of an Urban Affairs Forum’s Scholars Series on “What the Trump Administration Should Know About Cities.”  This essay comes to us from Nik Theodore, who is a Professor of Urban Planning and Policy and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Immigration policy was a focal point of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which included a pledge to mass-deport millions of unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the United States.  Cloaked in the rhetoric of law-and-order policing, the proposed deportations have been presented as a necessary first step towards reforming the nation’s immigration system.

It appears that President Trump recognizes that even with his proposed “deportation force,” the federal government alone cannot make good on his pledge and that local law enforcement authorities would be needed as “force multipliers.”  But therein lies the rub.  Perhaps as many as 500 counties, cities and other jurisdictions across the country have considered the implications of their involvement in immigration enforcement and rejected the idea.  These “sanctuary cities” limit, in one way or another, the cooperation of police with federal immigration authorities.

In an effort to pressure municipalities into participating in deportation efforts, President Trump has further pledged that one of the top priorities for his first 100 days in office is to “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.”  This threatened use of federal fiscal authority to punish localities for the limits they place on cooperation with federal immigration officials has intensified divisions in an already fractious immigration reform debate.

A question that has received too little attention amid all the heated rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign is whether police involvement in immigration enforcement damages police-community relations, thereby negatively impacting public safety.  Under the Obama administration, the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs provided a framework for federal-local collaboration in immigration enforcement.  These programs contributed to the record level of deportations conducted during President Obama’s two terms in office.

To evaluate the impact of these programs on Latinos’ perceptions of public safety and their willingness to contact the police when crimes have been committed, a randomized telephone survey of 2,004 Latinos living in the counties of Cook (Chicago), Harris (Houston), Los Angeles, and Maricopa (Phoenix) was conducted by Lake Research Partners.  The results show that blurring the line between local police and federal immigration enforcement has led to the profound erosion of residents’ trust of the police (Theodore, 2013; Theodore and Habans, 2016).

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 44 percent of Latinos surveyed are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime because they fear that police officers will use this interaction as an opportunity to inquire into their immigration status or that of people they know.

 

  • 45 percent of Latinos stated that they are less likely to voluntarily offer information about crimes, and 45 percent are less likely to report a crime because they are afraid the police will ask them or people they know about their immigration status.

 

  • 70 percent of undocumented immigrants reported they are less likely to contact law enforcement authorities if they are victims of a crime.

 

  • Fear of police contact is not confined to immigrants.  For example, 28 percent of US-born Latinos said they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime because they fear that police officers will use this interaction as an opportunity to inquire into their immigration status or that of people they know.

The survey results clearly show that increased involvement of police in immigration enforcement has significantly heightened the fears many Latinos have of the police, undermining their trust of law enforcement authorities.  When residents do not trust the police, they are less likely to report crimes, even if they have been the victims of a crime.

The mistrust of the police runs deep.  When survey respondents were asked, “How often do you think police officers stop Latinos and Hispanics on the streets of your city without good reason or cause?” 62 percent of Latinos surveyed in the four cities replied “very or somewhat often.”

To maintain effective police-community relations, the police must forge bonds of trust with the communities they serve.  The willingness of residents to voluntarily contact police when they have been victims of or witnesses to a crime depends on these bonds of trust.  When law enforcement practices undermine residents’ confidence in the police, those practices must be changed.  Numerous municipalities, such as Chicago, New Orleans, Newark, and Santa Ana, CA, have established models for such reforms.

Creating a bright line between local policing and federal immigration enforcement should be top priority for the Trump administration so that local law enforcement authorities can begin rebuilding the trust of the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.

 

The full report can be found here:

Nik Theodore. 2013. Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago. https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/INSECURE_COMMUNITIES_REPORT_FINAL.PDF

Suggested Reading

Menjívar, Cecilia and Cynthia Bejarano. 2004. “Latino Immigrants’ Perceptions of Crime and Police Authorities in the United States: A Case Study from the Phoenix Metropolitan Area,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 27(1): 120-148.

 

Provine, Doris Marie, Monica Varsanyi, Paul G. Lewis, and Scott H. Decker. 2012. “Growing Tensions between Civic Membership and Enforcement in the Devolution of Immigration Control,” in Kubrin CE, Zatz MS and Martinez R, eds., Punishing Immigrants: Policy, Politics, and Injustice. New York: New York University Press, pp. 42–61.

 

Strunk, Christopher and Helga Leitner. 2013. “Resisting Federal–Local Immigration Enforcement Partnerships: Redefining ‘Secure Communities’ and Public Safety,” Territory, Politics, Governance 1(1): 62-85

 

Theodore, Nik. 2013. Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago. https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/INSECURE_COMMUNITIES_REPORT_FINAL.PDF

 

Theodore, Nik and Robert Habans. 2016. “Policing Immigrant Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42(6): 970-988.

 

Nik Theodore is Professor of Urban Planning and Policy and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs of the University of Illinois at Chicago.  With Jamie Peck he is author of Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

The “What the Trump Administration Should Know” Scholars Series was developed and edited by Scott Minkoff (Forum Editor) and Jered Carr (UAR Managing Editor).

 

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