Washington — Over 200 scholars, government officials, community and law enforcement leaders gathered to discuss the impact of local law enforcement of immigration law, during a conference August 21-22, in Washington, D.C. The conference, entitled “The Role of Local Police: Striking a Balance between Immigration Enforcement and Civil Liberties,” covered a highly controversial issue that may prove to have dire repercussions on the Arab American community.
The event focused on the role of state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Many local police agencies, whose role has always been crime prevention and community protection, are being encouraged to assist in enforcing these laws. The challenges associated with this topic have been the subject of a heated debate across the U.S.
The conference was organized by the Police Foundation, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to improving policing through research and community outreach. Foundation President, Hubert Williams, who delivered opening remarks at the conference, said that the event provided a forum for open discussion on an issue that affects immigrant communities across the entire country.
“America’s local police are unclear about their role and responsibility in the enforcement of federal immigration law, and worry that their participation in immigration enforcement undermines their ability to fulfill their core mission of providing for public safety,” he stated. “Police leaders know that without community cooperation, their efforts to effectively prevent and address crime are severely compromised.”
Over the past year, the Police Foundation has been conducting a series of focus groups among community member and law enforcement agents in different areas across the U.S., in an effort to gain insight directly from those who are affected by this issue. It was found that there are grave concerns about the ability of local law enforcement to sustain its main focus of protecting local communities, should these policies be implemented nationwide.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Michigan Regional Director, Imad Hamad, who participated in the event, pointed out that there are skills and knowledge that are required to enforce immigration law.
“Immigration enforcement is a complex issue that requires special training and experience,” Hamad stated. “We cannot expect police officers to become highly skilled immigration officers after a short training period. This is an intensely complicated area, and if it is not treated as such, many issues are likely to arise.”
Several local law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. have already put these policies into effect. Some of these agencies have begun to work closely with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws. ADC National Executive Director, Kareem Shora, who served as a presenter during the conference, spoke to the attendees about the ramifications these policies have had on the Arab American community.
“There have been numerous challenges encountered by the Arab and Muslim American communities as a result of certain U.S. Government policies that have involved local law enforcement agencies’ enforcement of federal immigration law,” Shora stated “This has had an impact on the ability of our communities to actively participate, as members of civil society, in reaching our full-potential in assisting legitimate efforts aimed at combating crime in all its forms.”
These and others issues were addressed throughout the two-day conference, which featured panels and workshops that covered issues like fear and trust within the undocumented community, and legal issues associated with local law enforcement of immigration law.
Perhaps the strongest argument against the enforcement of these policies revolves around the issue of trust between communities and local law enforcement. Many argue that if immigration enforcement at the local level takes effect, crime victims who are undocumented citizens will become fearful of reporting crimes, and witnesses will no longer come forward to assist in police investigations. These negative effects would severely damage the relationship between the immigrant community and the police. Additionally, an increase in crime within these communities is likely to occur.
“By carrying out these policies, we will be placing a great deal of strain on the trust that exists between the immigrant community and the police,” said Hamad. “Having the trust of the community is one of the highest priorities among local police departments, and many feel that allowing the police to enforce immigration laws will break this trust.”
Raquel Aldana, Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Law, added that a breakdown in trust between law enforcers and community members will have damaging effects on immigrant communities. “These tactics by local law enforcement agencies will only increase the tensions that exist in immigrant communities,” she stated. “There are already numerous problems that exist within these communities, and enforcing these policies will only add to problems like racial profiling.”
Another concern among both community stakeholders and law enforcement officials is the negative economic impact that these policies will have on the immigrant communities. There is a concern that by dedicating resources to enforcing immigration law, local law enforcement agencies will find themselves financially strained, which will be detrimental to the communities they operate in.
“There is no question that the issue of undocumented citizens is a serious one,” continued Hamad, “but implementing these practices may lead to further complications.”
To learn more about the Police Foundation’s efforts on immigration enforcement, visit www.policefoundation.org.