As Lou Dobbs continues to fan the flames of anti-immigrant rhetoric, the American public is increasingly buying into a flawed premise: immigrants are criminals and local law enforcement must enforce immigration laws. The effects of this rhetorical myth are devastating. Communities all over the United States are sacrificing public safety as law enforcement officers take on the duties of immigration agents, instead of making sure communities are protected against violent crime. Unmentioned and overlooked are immigrant women -- including victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and exploitation -- who can no longer turn to their local police for protection.
The crux of the problem is the 287(g) program, initially implemented under the Bush Administration, which creates partnerships between the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies and authorizes local agencies to perform duties historically handled by trained immigration officers. Advocacy groups have criticized the arrangement for increasing racial profiling and targeting those immigrants with no criminal records or minor trafficking infractions for immigration enforcement. Many local law enforcement agencies have also taken issue with program for its lack of oversight, among other flaws.
Nevertheless, on July 10, 2009 Secretary Napolitano announced an expansion of the 287(g) program, largely ignoring critics’ concerns. As a follow up to a letter signed by over 500 agencies urging President Obama to terminate the 287(g) program, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus earlier this week wrote a letter to President Obama requesting the same action. The letter cites the concerns over profiling and oversight, articulating the dangers of the current arrangement.
Immigrant women, in particular, make unsettling compromises in light of 287(g) programs. As every new 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement is signed, another immigrant victim of domestic violence stays another day in an abusive relationship, too scared to call the police for fear that she will be deported. A teenage immigrant girl wants to report a sexual assault by her employer but fears that local law enforcement will detain her, rather than prosecute the perpetrator. Some employers even abuse and exploit immigrant women in the workplace, knowing that these programs scare women from taking a stand against such abuse.
Expansion of the 287(g) program will expose even more immigrant women to crime victimization, leaving them no option but to endure. In the case of ongoing exploitation and abuse at home or at work, it is no secret that such exposure can be fatal.
Moreover, the program undermines the primary mission of law enforcement agencies: to keep communities safe. A number of municipalities, initially attracted to the program because it brought access to national crime databases and fiscal support, have soured on the collaboration. Just this week, Framingham, Massachusetts Chief of Police Steven Carl explained, “It doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement. We’re done.” While police are trying to build a relationship of trust and communication, the immigration enforcement activities breed fear and mistrust.
The program’s very existence communicates to immigrant victims of violence and crime that the criminal justice system does not protect them, and enables perpetrators to escape responsibility. Immigrant women, who are 40 percent more likely to face violence than the national average, are especially vulnerable.
As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Violence against Women Act and mark the beginning of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is startling that the plight of immigrant women living under 287(g) programs is so easily overlooked or dismissed. While the Obama Administration considers solutions for the complicated issue of immigration, it should consider that this particular program is harming immigrant women far more than it is helping anyone else.
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