A Losing Proposition -- How Immigration Enforcement Hurts Women and Communities

As Lou Dobbs continues to fan the flames of anti-immigrant
rhetoric, the American public is increasingly buying into a flawed premise:
immigrants are criminals and local law enforcement must enforce immigration
laws.  The effects of this rhetorical
myth are devastating.  Communities all
over the United States
are sacrificing public safety as law enforcement officers take on the duties of
immigration agents, instead of making sure communities are protected against
violent crime.  Unmentioned and
overlooked are immigrant women -- including victims of domestic violence, sexual
assault, and exploitation -- who can no longer turn to their local police for protection.

The crux of the problem is the 287(g) program, initially implemented
under the Bush Administration, which creates partnerships between the
Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies and authorizes
local agencies to perform duties historically handled by trained immigration
officers.  Advocacy groups have
criticized the arrangement for increasing racial profiling and targeting those
immigrants with no criminal records or minor trafficking infractions for
immigration enforcement.  Many local law
enforcement agencies have also taken issue with program for its lack of
oversight, among other flaws.    

Nevertheless, on July 10, 2009 Secretary Napolitano announced
an expansion of the 287(g) program
, largely ignoring critics’ concerns.  As a follow up to a letter signed by over 500
agencies urging President Obama to terminate the 287(g) program, the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus earlier this week wrote a letter to
President Obama requesting the same action. 
The letter cites the concerns over profiling and oversight, articulating
the dangers of the current arrangement.

Immigrant women, in particular, make unsettling compromises
in light of 287(g) programs. As every new 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement is
signed, another immigrant victim of domestic violence stays another day in an
abusive relationship, too scared to call the police for fear that she will be
deported.  A teenage immigrant girl wants
to report a sexual assault by her employer but fears that local law enforcement
will detain her, rather than prosecute the perpetrator.  Some employers even abuse and exploit
immigrant women in the workplace, knowing that these programs scare women from
taking a stand against such abuse. 

Expansion of the 287(g) program will expose even more
immigrant women to crime victimization, leaving them no option but to
endure.  In the case of ongoing
exploitation and abuse at home or at work, it is no secret that such exposure
can be fatal.    

Moreover, the program undermines the primary mission of law
enforcement agencies: to keep communities safe. A number of municipalities,
initially attracted to the program because it brought access to national crime
databases and fiscal support, have soured on the collaboration. Just this week,
Framingham, Massachusetts Chief of Police Steven Carl
explained, “It doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation
and immigration enforcement. We’re done.” While police are trying to build a
relationship of trust and communication, the immigration enforcement activities
breed fear and mistrust.

The program’s very existence communicates to immigrant
victims of violence and crime that the criminal justice system does not protect
them, and enables perpetrators to escape responsibility. Immigrant women, who
are 40 percent more likely to face violence than the national average, are
especially vulnerable.

As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the
Violence against Women Act and mark the beginning of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is startling that the plight of immigrant women living
under 287(g) programs is so easily overlooked or dismissed. While the Obama
Administration considers solutions for the complicated issue of immigration, it
should consider that this particular program is harming immigrant women far more
than it is helping anyone else. 

Learn more about positive policies for expanding safety for immigrant women and communities at www.LegalMomentum.org.