In yet another hard-line attempt at mass deportation and control of undocumented immigrants in this country, the Senate Majority recently sought to convert police agencies into immigration agents in 200 American cities by threatening to withhold federal funding if law enforcement did not communicate with ICE. The bill would also have imposed stricter mandatory minimum prison terms for undocumented aliens who reentered the country after certain types of convictions. Fortunately, the support was simply not there. Nevertheless, these types of measures illustrate the disturbing level of fear and intolerance amongst some of our policymakers. The catalyst for the proposed bill was the June death of Kathryn Steinle, a woman who was tragically killed when a bullet ricocheted off a San Francisco pier. The shot was fired by an illegal immigrant, who became a lightning rod for xenophobic ire.
Immigrants Much Less Likely to Commit Violent Crimes than Native-Born Americans
Yes, it could be argued that had stricter immigration policies been in force, the man responsible for Steinle's death would have been deported much earlier and Steinle would likely still be alive. However, blindly judging an entire population based on the actions of one, mentally ill individual poisons our society as a whole. Most immigration studies show that legal and illegal immigrants are significantly less likely than native-born Americans to engage in violent crime. In reality, American crime is mostly homegrown. Unfortunately, many in this country are either too myopic or hidebound by their prejudices to admit it.
Using Local Police for Immigration Enforcement Would Compromise Public Safety
Although supporters of harsh anti-immigration tactics would like to imagine a "clean-sweep" of undocumented immigrants by sending thousands of police into major "sanctuary" cities, the reality would be much different. Using local police as immigration agents would alienate whole populations and undermine community trust in law enforcement. People would refuse to report criminal activity or interact with police in any way out of fear of being turned in and deported. They would live in constant fear that their they, their son or husband would be deported just because they were trying to do the right thing. Simply put, the bill would eroded public trust and indirectly jeopardized the safety of others by stymieing communication between the undocumented community and the police.
Immigration Way Up, Violent Crime Way Down
Consider the facts: between 1990 and 2013, the undocumented immigrant population tripled. However, in that 23-year period, FBI data reports that violent crime has decreased by 48 percent and property crime is down 41 percent. Still, xenophobia sadly continues to permeate our media and politics in this country. Couple this with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's gelid response at the prospect of immigration reform while President Obama is in office, and hopes of a new immigration law wane fast.