Sen. Toomey's Immigrant Scapegoating Measure Must Be Stopped

Many communities comprised primarily of African Americans and Latinos have come to rely on grant funding to fill a variety of basic safety-net needs. These needs should not be held hostage to the politics of the day.
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Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) questions witnesses at the Senate Finance Committee in Washington May 21, 2013. A Senate panel will try on Tuesday to pry more details out of current and former officials of the Internal Revenue Service about the agency's targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) questions witnesses at the Senate Finance Committee in Washington May 21, 2013. A Senate panel will try on Tuesday to pry more details out of current and former officials of the Internal Revenue Service about the agency's targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

Co-authored by Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project.

At a time when relations between police and communities of color are at an all-time low, it is almost incomprehensible that the Senate would vote to consider a measure to further undermine trust between communities of color and local law enforcement. Yet that's exactly what the Senate will do today. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), locked in a tight reelection race, has called for a vote on a measure that attempts to pit Black and brown communities against each other.

Here's how: In order to force localities to abandon community-trust policies that ensure immigration authorities can't use local law enforcement as de facto immigration agents, Toomey wants to hold hostage the economic development funding upon which communities of color rely. The intent is clear: Toomey and others want to strong-arm localities into adopting anti-immigrant measures in order to preserve critical economic development funding for other low-income communities of color.

This is unconscionable. Unfortunately, such tactics are becoming all too common. Xenophobic attacks and glaring attempts to divide our communities are simply the politics of the day. This measure, and others that undermine improved ties between local law enforcement and communities of color, use the politics of fear to score cheap political points.

Under Senator Toomey's proposal, localities that have adopted policies that limit interactions between immigration authorities and local law enforcement would no longer be eligible for Community Block Development Grants (CBDG). These grants provide critical resources for impoverished and struggling neighborhoods. Under Toomey's proposal, localities face a Hobson's choice: end programs designed to encourage immigrants and their families to safely come forward as victims of--or witnesses to--crime without risking deportation, or lose millions of dollars African American and other communities so desperately need.

The money Toomey plans to hold hostage isn't chump change. Florida alone would lose more than $31 million if this bill were to become law. Others stand to lose hundreds of millions more.

Toomey and others disingenuously claim that these measures are about safety. However, research shows that many Latinos are less likely to call police--even when they are victims of a crime--because they fear that interacting with police could result in their being questioned about their or their loved ones' immigration status. That's why states like California and localities like New Orleans have adopted measures to ensure that people who interact with police can do so without the risk that their courage to come forward will lead to being deported. This explains why law enforcement officials have opposed measures such as Toomey's in the past.

Many communities comprised primarily of African Americans and Latinos have come to rely on grant funding to fill a variety of basic safety-net needs. These needs should not be held hostage to the politics of the day.

This is about politics, and nothing more. Hate-filled rhetoric has infected the political discourse, and it's now coming up for a vote in the halls of Congress. At a time when real issues are woefully absent from the congressional calendar, it's appalling to see this bill on the Senate floor. Those who claim to stand with working communities should see through this racist measure masquerading as a public-safety bill and swiftly vote it down.

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