A hint of Arizona in D.C.'s approach to illegal immigrants

By Ron Hampton
Sunday, May 2, 2010

The passage of Arizona's law targeting illegal immigrants should sound alarms all over the country. While many have denounced this law as overly harsh, it is a natural offshoot of a wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police partnerships that are rapidly changing the way law enforcement operates in communities -- with devastating consequences.

The blurring of the roles of local police, who are there to preserve public safety, and immigration enforcement, a federal responsibility, comes at the expense of one of the most significant advances in local law enforcement: community policing.

After 25 years as a D.C. police officer, I can say with confidence that building relationships with the community is fundamental to preventing and solving crimes. When trust is replaced by fear of deportation, everyone's public safety is compromised.

Washington is not Arizona, but that doesn't mean this trend hasn't arrived here. In November, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier signed an agreement with ICE to implement a little-known program deceivingly called "Secure Communities." The initiative comes on the heels of the failed 287(g) program, an effort to train local officers to enforce federal immigration law. Like many localities around the country, the District balked at 287(g). But Secure Communities is nothing more than 287(g) rebranded.

Secure Communities is carried out at the jails of participating jurisdictions, but like 287(g) it enlists local police to enforce federal immigration law. It is touted as merely a technology- and information-sharing program, but this hardly appears to be the case. The Secure Communities Standard Operating Procedures show that ICE relies on local law enforcement to question arrestees and forward information, helping to funnel thousands of people into the mismanaged and ineffective ICE detention and removal system. Even though the program is operating in 168 jurisdictions in 20 states, with more on the way, little information is available on whether it is effective or whether ICE is acting according to its stated enforcement standards. In fact, we know very little about the program at all.

But we do know that Secure Communities and other ICE-police collaborations do not include or secure the "communities" they are supposed to serve. Quite the contrary. Enforcement efforts such as Secure Communities and 287(g) prevent police from doing their jobs, because such systematic ICE-police collaboration damages the core principle of effective community policing: trust. For communities of color who already have fragile relationships with law enforcement, trust is a critical tool for ensuring security and safety. Lest we forget, community policing and community consultations are essential to effective law enforcement and to helping to minimize profiling in communities of color.

President Obama recently acknowledged that the erosion of trust between police and their communities is a threat to fairness and community safety. The foundation of successful practices like community policing is threatened when local law enforcement is given the impossible task of enforcing ICE's agenda; rather, it creates hysteria among people who might be fearful of detention and deportation.

Police enforcement of immigration law can only have devastating consequences, with increased potential for racial profiling and covering up unlawful arrests. Before we go any further down the road to Arizona, we must put the brakes on Secure Communities.

The writer, a former community officer with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, is executive director of the National Black Police Association.

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