To the editor:
The nation balks as Arizona descends into apartheid and a wave of anti-immigrant laws sweeps the country. Laws requiring immigrants to carry their immigration papers at all times, in practice, require all people who dont look American to carry documentation because police must question anyone that could be an immigrant. Coupled with a more recent move to censor ethnic studies from public education, Arizonas actions conjure images from the past of freed men, internment camps and the red scare.
Have we come full circle forgotten the struggle and lives lost to forge civil rights and equal opportunity, fortifying our Constitution and society with ideals of liberty and justice under the law?
Arizona seems far away, but at local level, a quiet transformation is happening in cities and counties across the nation as sheriffs follow the trend and turn local police into immigration enforcement partners. A new program ironically named Secure Communities is a rebirth of the failed 287(g) initiative that cities like Alexandria rebuked not too long ago. Any formal partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement undermines local policing efforts and public safety because it destroys the fragile hard-earned trust between communities of color and law enforcement and tosses notions of due process and civil rights out the window.
Unfortunately it is already operational in 11 jurisdictions in Virginia, including Alexandria. Under this agreement every time a person is booked for charges that can be as minor as a traffic violation, local law officers run a check for immigration history. When a hit occurs, ICE is notified and afforded complete discretion on how to proceed. This means that a person can be subject to both detention and deportation prior to and regardless of the determination of innocence or guilt by a court of law.
Lax regulations around how and when officer shares information about individuals held in local jails also set the stage for racial profiling. Under the current program, a police officer can make an unfounded arrest and later drop the charges, but the person might still be deported. At stake in this are the very principles upon which our democracy and criminal justice system are based.
Dont get me wrong, nobodys defending criminals. Everyone wants to get murderers and rapists out of our community. But, immigration is a separate federal issue. Local officials, like the sheriff, have a primary responsibility to the local community. When the local community is affected by a federal policy, the response of local agencies and officials must be to advocate for change. The response of the sheriff must never be to sell out democratic principles like due process and civil rights in attempts to resolve a federal issue. Rather, he or she must push the federal government to enact needed reforms.
Immigration is a complex issue that speaks to the challenges of our time. The solutions we choose should reflect our nations values. It is a federal responsibility, not one to be farmed out to local jurisdictions, either purposefully or through lack of action. It will take commitment and dedication but local law enforcement must remain unwavering in their commitment to making our communities strong and safe instead of jumping on the bandwagon and implementing reactionary measures like Secure Communities. Looking to the future, we must all chip in to demand Congressional action to fix immigration laws.
– Lucero Beebe-Giudice
Tenants and Workers United