The relationship between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants can be a difficult one, and it differs depending on the city or region of the country. One of the most vexing issues is the balance between enforcing immigration laws and making undocumented immigrants feel comfortable with talking to the police in their community.
Many immigrants don’t report crimes they have either witnessed or been the victims of because they are afraid their citizenship status will be exposed. But in some places around the U.S., local authorities are reaching out to immigrant communities to ask for their assistance in reporting crimes, assuring them that they will be safe from deportation.
New Jersey police meet with immigrants
In Lindenwold, N.J., Police Chief Thomas Brennan recently spoke at a church that primarily serves the local Hispanic community. His message was that local authorities do not care about immigration status, their only concern is preventing crime and punishing offenders. To that end, he encouraged undocumented immigrants in the community to step forward and report crimes, even if they are not citizens of the United States.
Brennan’s speech came in the wake of the recent murder of an undocumented immigrant. While investigating the case, police found that many crimes in the area were going unreported because people were afraid of deportation, and Brennan desperately wants to change that.
“Anyone’s status with regard to immigration is not important,” Brennan told the parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to Philly.com. “Whether you are here legally or illegally, you’re a member of this community and therefore deserve a right to be safe. … The important thing is we need your help. What we’re hoping to accomplish today is to build some trust.”
Similar approaches are being tried by police forces all over the country, including in the Pacific Northwest, where many local authorities have been taking this more conciliatory approach.