The oft-repeated claim that local enforcement of immigration law scares victims from reporting crime may be more of an urban legend than a hard reality, relying more on feelings than data.
Rather than exposing such victims to possible deportation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement allows fast-track visa approval for those who report violent crimes. The annual cap of 10,000 U Visas has been reached each year since 2009.
In that time, 76,230 victims were granted visas, along with 59,427 family members.
In the most comprehensive study to date, the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum tested the theory that tighter police policies result in lower crime reporting and greater victimization among immigrants.
The 200-page analysis examined in 2009 the crime-reporting patterns before and after police in Virginia’s Prince William County began working more closely with federal immigration agencies.
“They found no decline in crime reporting by Hispanics after the county implemented a policy to screen all offenders for legal status and referring to ICE,” A.J. Louderback, sheriff of Texas’ Jackson County and a law-enforcement adviser to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, told Watchdog.org.
“ICE has never targeted for deportation witnesses of any crime,” Louderback said, an assertion ICE would neither confirm nor refute.
ICE lists wide latitude in prosecutorial discretion, stays of removal and expedited U.S. visas among the tools to protect illegal immigrants who are innocent witnesses or victims of crimes.
“If an illegal alien has vital information to share with police and is worried about the consequences, the U Visa is available for just that purpose,” said Bob Dane, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Still, the fear-of-reporting argument persists.
Three academics writing in the Los Angeles Times last week cited recent and upcoming studies asserting that “in cities that partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, undocumented residents were anxious about contacting local police.”
Those fears are undoubtedly real, but the authors of the Times piece point to no hard data to support the claim, relying instead on anecdotal reporting.
Studies following the Prince William County report identified three primary reasons that Hispanics generally – and illegal immigrants specifically – may be reluctant to call police:
- Language barriers.
- Cultural differences.
- Lack of knowledge of local laws.
Chicago, with a sizable Hispanic population, has the highest murder rate in the country, despite — or perhaps because of — its “sanctuary city” policy, under which illegal immigrants can report crime without police inquiring about their residency status.
In Prince William County, the study noted that a “drop in reported violent crimes could be due in part to a decline in reporting of crime by Hispanics.”
But officers say Prince William’s proactive policing has elicited more reports of trespassing, loitering and other disorderly conduct in that county’s growing Hispanic community. Residents there see tougher policies as a tool for removing, or at least intimidating, criminal aliens.
“They probably would call police if there was a beating,” suggested James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “They wouldn’t care if [the assailant] got deported.”
‘Capricious conception of public safety’
But law-enforcement authorities in Texas’ sanctuary cities willfully ignore the illegal presence of violent criminal suspects they arrest.
Abbott called out Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez last month for “interfering with immigration-status investigations.”
Since Hernandez took office in January, her deputies arrested 56 people for whom ICE issued “detainers” on the grounds that the illegal immigrants are a threat to public safety.
Yet only two ICE detainers were honored under the sheriff’s sanctuary policy. She allowed 54 to make bail, including suspects arrested for:
- Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
- Assault with bodily injury.
- Assault with bodily injury of a family member.
- Sexual assault.
- Felony assault-family violence strangulation.
- Intentional injury to a child, elder or disabled individual.
Abbott rejected Hernandez’s assertion that it’s “compassionate” to ignore ICE detainers, and blasted the “capricious conception of public safety [that] allows these criminals to walk free — on her own streets no less.”
Senate Bill 4 would bring Hernandez and other sanctuary sheriffs to heel by requiring that ICE detainers be enforced at local jails.
State Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion Tuesday that the bill — filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, with no Democrat co-sponsors — is constitutional.
“SB 4 would make great strides to keep communities secure by requiring state and local law enforcement to cooperate with federal agencies,” Paxton wrote.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.