PERF on the border
Written by Mark Nichols
Doing more with less. That’s been the mantra in law enforcement for quite some time now. And based on the political popularity of “get-tough” immigration measures making their way through state house legislatures, the “more” that cops are charged with could increase exponentially. According to a recent report from KGNS News, many local law enforcement leaders have finally reached their breaking point.
Doing more with less is one thing. Doing everything with nothing is not an attractive proposition.
Reacting to the likelihood that tougher immigration laws like Arizona’s controversial SB-1070 could be enacted across the nation, many law enforcement officials say it’s a potential recipe for disaster.
"It would be a travesty. It would be very difficult given our proximity to Mexico,” Laredo Texas Police Chief Carlos Maldonado told KGNS. “It's a very complex issue."
A recent national summit among federal officials indicates the current administration is looking to engage local law enforcement in an effort to enforce immigration laws across the country.
This accomplished two tasks from a federal perspective. First, it creates the impression that immigration is local law enforcement’s responsibility, shifting any blame for failure to “secure the border,” from federal agencies charged with immigration enforcement to local police.
But the best part for the feds is the free labor. By capitalizing on the enthusiasm for more immigration enforcement powers among police, the Federal government can rely on police officers and sheriff’s deputies to do the leg work as far as finding, arresting and jailing those suspected of being in the country illegally. All ICE has to do is wait for the phone to ring and then go grab the illegal immigrant up for deportation.
The Police Executive research Forum recently held a discussion group concerning the issue. A large part of the discussion focused on the fact that many Americans believe that crime on the U.S. side of the U.S./Mexico border is out of control.
“Here in Laredo there's a perception that crime is out of control, being at the border,” said Executive Director Chuck Wexler from the Police Executive Research Forum. “So the first thing that we found out is no, that's not the case."
Chief Maldonado invited the Police Executive Research Forum from Washington to gather information on major issues impacting border communities, in particular how law enforcement is dealing with issues of immigration.
In Arizona, SB-1070 has been a source of tremendous friction within the ranks. You’re either against it, running the risk of being painted as “soft on crime,” or you’re for it- running the risk of charges of racism and xenophobia.
But at the PERF discussion the political took a back seat to the practical.
"It's not that local law enforcement thinks it’s good or bad,” Wexler said in reference to local law enforcement. “They realize that to be effective with the community that's not something that they should be doing,” Wexler said.
"Our concern is answering calls for service, keeping the citizens of San Antonio safe and keeping a good relationship with the community,” added San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus.
Chief Maldonado said officers already have a big enough workload to ensure Laredoans are safe with fewer officers and smaller budgets.
“Right now we're trying to maximize the number of officers we have to respond to calls for service,” Maldonado said.
Another aspect of the immigration enforcement mandate that does not get discussed as much as others is the impact such measures have on the traditional law enforcement mission.
For instance, in San Francisco, it’s possible that someone could be deported for calling to police to report domestic violence or another crime should ICE determine that person is in the country illegally.
That creates a climate of fear where crime goes unreported because people are afraid calling the police could lead to arrest and deportation.