The experience of Elena Cabrera, a survivor of intimate partner violence, is a sad example of many of the current problems with our immigration system:
A woman who called the Escondido Police Department to report that she was beaten by her boyfriend was herself arrested and later turned over to immigration authorities after she was booked at the Vista jail, a case that critics say illustrates the problems inherent in local police getting involved in immigration enforcement.
Dual arrests in domestic violence situations are often problematic because they may leave any children without parents and may lend weight to the perpetrator’s threats. The intersecting issue of immigration status often introduces additional power dynamic issues. When the perpetrator has legal status and/or English language proficiency and the survivor doesn’t, the perpetrator has more leverage for manipulating a situation when law enforcement gets involved.
When Ms. Cabrera was taken into custody, she was forced to leave her four children unsupervised, which is frightening and potentially dangerous for them. Ms. Cabrera’s immigration violations were revealed due to local-federal information sharing and contributed to her transfer to ICE custody. Under the Obama administration’s new prosecutorial discretion policy, Ms. Cabrera, who has a pending Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immigration petition, would have been labeled “low-priority” had she been placed into removal proceedings. Even so, she remained in custody, away from her children, for eight days while her perpetrator was released.
If you think this kind of incident has a limited impact—think again. Word travels fast, and Ms. Cabrera’s neighbors, as well as anyone they tell her story to, are likely to think twice before they call the police to report a crime, if they decide to call at all.
Earlier this week on October 19, the mayor of the District of Columbia signed an executive order prohibiting public safety officials in the District from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status. Getting information about an individual’s immigration status has been standard practice for years, especially as federal immigration enforcement has started to bleed into local law enforcement agency (LEA) territory. Several federal programs have institutionalized federal-local “partnerships” but one in particular—Secure Communities (S-Comm)—has received a lot of attention this year because unlike similar programs, like the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) or §287(g), participation in S-Comm is no longer elective.
While the boundaries of S-Comm are unclear, one of the program’s hallmarks is the interoperability of data systems: when an individual is fingerprinted at a local jail by a police officer, his or her prints are run through the FBI’s biometric database to do the criminal background check. Now, ICE can access the same data that the FBI has access to, helping federal officials identify the next victims of our vicious system of detention and deportation. And now, that can happen regardless of whether LEAs want it to.
What LEAs want should be considered here because, setting aside the questionable legal basis for this mandatory program, S-Comm also reduces the effectiveness of local policing by reducing the rates of crime reporting in immigrant communities. This is a huge problem considering that these communities underreported crime due to fear of law enforcement before the current heyday of federal-local “cooperation.”
Policymakers and the citizenry alike get riled up when they talk about deporting criminals and stopping crime. But so long as communities see la policia as being in bed with la migra, criminals, regardless of immigration status, will flourish as crimes go unreported and communities, regardless of immigration status, will have reason to fear. We encourage leaders in other jurisdictions to follow Mayor Gray’s approach of mixing common sense policy and courageous action. Policies such as that approved by D.C.’s mayor are the true “Secure Communities” programs of our generation.
For more information about NLIRH’s work to advance the rights of immigrant women or our leadership on the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, please visit the NCIWR website.