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Better Immigration Enforcement Means Safer Communities

In late November, columnist Robert McMillan wrote a piece entitled “A Story About One Illegal Immigrant,” which questioned the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Immigration enforcement policies affect the safety of all Nassau County residents, but perhaps not in the way that McMillan might imagine.

For some perspective, let’s backtrack to 2007:

Federal immigration agents raided homes in Nassau and Suffolk in predawn hours, in operations that were supposedly aimed at apprehending “dangerous criminals.” A fine mission, if only it were true.

According to a report this summer by the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Cardozo Law School, approximately two-thirds of the people arrested in the raids weren’t dangerous targets, but simply people who were in violation of civil immigration law. Documents cited in the report imply that agents were trying to fill arrest quotas, which had recently jumped from 125 to 1,000 arrests per year for each agent.

In many instances, the agents simply broke into homes without warrants, in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

For those immigrants arrested – the majority of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – the raids had life-changing consequences. But beyond the arrestees, raids like these can have a larger-scale effect in communities:

They make immigrant communities fearful of police. And that has consequences for everyone, according to Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey. “It would be virtually impossible to solve crime effectively if victims and witnesses, no matter what their residency status, had some reluctance to come forward for fear of being deported,” Mulvey said in a December interview with Long Island Wins.

“Many immigrants already fear the police, stemming often from the practices of the police in their countries of origin; therefore agencies must work very hard to gain their trust through policies and practices that are fair and respectful of cultural differences.”

By winning the trust of immigrant communities, Nassau County police have been better able to investigate and prevent crime, making the county safer for all residents. For example, if someone goes to the Nassau County police, they won’t be asked about their immigration status unless they’ve been arrested for a serious crime. That reinforces the idea that immigrants can trust local police, and work with them to help prevent and solve crime.

Most people can agree that our current immigration system is broken, and that it needs to be fixed. But in the meantime, we don’t want federal immigration enforcement tactics that destroy the trust that police have cultivated in the communities they serve. When that happens, we jeopardize the safety of all Nassau County residents.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director at Long Island Wins, an immigration-centered communications campaign based in Port Washington.