Sanctuary cities and divided opinions in law enforcement
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
The past few years have been rough on community and law enforcement relations. In fact, 2016 saw many departments intensely focus on countering the negative impact and strengthening their community ties.
It is natural, therefore, that law enforcement agencies across the nation are sharply divided in their opinions about President Donald Trump's executive order on sanctuary cities that shield illegal immigrants from deportation.
As per the new order, up to 300 communities could lose federal funding unless they comply with new federal immigration enforcement efforts. Cities with policies protecting undocumented residents may see some troubled times ahead if there is truly a federal law enforcement crackdown. However, there may be a provision allowing funds to seep into the local police force.
Some have already termed this as "unlawful coercion," and they shy away from further tarnishing their image. In recent years, the police have had fraught relationships with the community at large, but especially minority communities. Pressing local officers to enforce immigration laws could be detrimental to the peace and security of the nation.
As the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Major Cities Chiefs Association pointed out in their joint statement, the law enforcement community has worked hard to build trust, and now is not the time for people to question that trust.
"Cities that aim to build trusting and supportive relations with immigrant communities should not be punished because this is essential to reducing crime and helping victims, both stated goals of the new administration in Washington," the statement reads. "We must be able to continue to protect the safety of all of our residents while ensuring that local law enforcement is focused on community policing."
In the past, these groups have also pointed out that immigration laws are complex and need expert handling. Local police officers do not have the training, knowledge, resources or authority to assist and handle immigration issues. Their job is to create and maintain safe communities.
If they morph into immigration agents, people will be afraid to come to them for help or report a crime. Fear of consequences will stop many from reporting minor infractions, which could escalate into a major crime. It may also expose immigrant communities to more hate crimes.
But not all are of the same opinion.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the national coalition of sheriffs and nation's largest police union, endorsed the president's move. They are particularly happy that the federal funding ban for these cities wouldn't stop the funding for the local law enforcement agencies.
They are also glad that thousands of immigration officers will be recruited, as per the new order. This will ease the pressure on them and allow trained officials to deal immigration enforcement issues.
"We cannot automatically punish those whose sworn duty is to carry out policy, which may compromise the safety of the public," said Chuck Canterbury, National President of the FOP. "However, we do need to encourage cooperation between all levels of law enforcement to ensure that arbitrary policies do not put a dangerous person back on the streets."
There are reasons for this point of view as well. A 2014 ICE report showed a direct correlation between a large percentage of undocumented and illegal migrants with rising crime rates. For this reason, proponents have been urging state and local governments to comply with federal law when it comes to enforcing immigration policies.
As an example, the report documented that while 7 percent of California's population was comprised of unauthorized migrants, their number in the state prison was over 12 percent. But numerous other studies also show that undocumented immigrants are not more violent or unlawful than regular U.S. citizens. In fact, their very status keeps them more grounded within the boundaries of the law.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department publicly refused to comply with the order, which they worry will lead to more unrest. They fear the heard-earned trust and peace will be lost overnight, citing their wisdom, experience and policing knowledge behind their opinions.
They say using local cops as immigration agents would be a slap in the face of this peace. Trust in police and public safety go hand in hand, so the executive order can only lead to discord and provide the foundation for more criminal activity.
Therefore, even with the risk of losing federal money, states and local municipalities are reluctant to act.
Most police officers and law enforcement agencies agree. As they pointed out earlier, committing local police to enforcing federal immigration laws would lay a severe strain on resources and only result in stretching them further. It may also limit the police departments' ability to focus on the more important issues that concern all citizens.
Many police departments, even ones in sanctuary cities, already cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security and the federal government. Typically, when they arrest an undocumented person for serious crimes, the case is automatically reported.
Since this also severely challenges the rights of local communities and states to set their priorities, the police departments are in a quandary — Which partnership should they honor?
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