With Congress having failed to resolve the country’s simmering immigration issues, local governments are taking the situation into their own hands. Some cities and states have begun to make it policy to check the status of anyone they believe is in this country illegally.
One of the issues surrounding law enforcement and the illegal immigrant population is the lack of communication between the two parties. Sometimes this is because of a language barrier, but more often is has to do with a fear of deportation. Someone who is undocumented may not report being a victim of a crime or a witness to a crime if they fear their lack of legal status will land them in trouble. As a result, there are more criminals on the streets and crimes go unsolved. If local governments start making it policy for police officers to check document status it will only increase the lack of communication between law enforcement and the immigrant population.
In Tulsa, OK, where this practice has been enacted, police officers are voicing concerns that it will create unnecessary work for them and will ultimately hurt their ability to prevent or respond to crimes. Tulsa Police Officer Mark Wollmerhauser, who has been an officer for 30 years, speaks about instances where illegal immigrants may not call the police after a crime has been committed. He says, “They will not call us; it will drive a stake through the community in terms of crime prevention.”
This also poses the question of racial profiling. Under what circumstances is a police officer required to confirm documents status? Is it the color of someone’s skin, their accent, the car they drive, the neighborhood they are found in, the people they are associating with? As a Mexican American born and raised in the United States, I definitely find this practice troubling. If I were to be pulled over, would I be questioned? Would I have to prove that I am a United States citizen? What are the factors that the police use in deciding whether to check someone’s status, or is everyone who encounters a police officer asked to prove that they are in the United States legally?
In the Washington, DC, area, Prince William County lawmakers approved a measure this week that requires officers to check the residency status of anyone who is detained if there is probable cause to believe that the person is in this country illegally. However, Charlie Dean, the county police chief, believes this will only increase racism if it is not handled carefully and with full understanding of what this resolution means.
I believe that there needs to be some sort of solution to the overwhelming immigration issues we face. I understand the frustrations of local jurisdictions. But I also believe that there is no easy answer. I think that if these issues are left to local law enforcement, we will see more crime, more unreported crime, worsened communication between the immigrant population and our local law enforcement agencies, and further stress on our already overextended law enforcement resources.