The first scare came in December. I received news from City Hall that the Secure Communities Act was to be implemented in New Haven. I broke into a cold sweat as I considered the implications of the act.
Secure Communities is an act passed by the federal government in October 2008, set to go live state-by-state across the United States by 2013. The bill includes provisions to merge local police databases with background checks run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Everyone whose profile is filed in local police stations will have her immigration status checked through ICE’s database. Ideally, the bill is supposed to target people with criminal records who live in the United States illegally, but in practice this bill does not secure our communities.
One of the victims of Secure Communities was a friend of mine who lived in a city where the act was enforced. He was a student finishing high school. He was driving too fast one day, and his back taillight was out. He was pulled over by a cop. He argued with the policeman and was taken in to the police station. From there, his profile was entered into the computer. His name was flagged, so the police had to detain him. He was deported.
Imagine a world where people you grew up with, friends who mentored you, your co-workers and other Yale students are afraid to leave campus — not because they look at this week’s crime rates or because they have not explored the city before, but because simply encountering a policeman on the street could mean deportation and a radical change in their futures.
Imagine a world where you cannot go home to visit your family less than two hours away because getting on a train could mean being subjected to a random search and detention by an ICE officer.
Do you feel comfortable knowing that other students, some living in your dorm or studying in your classes, are afraid to talk to anyone about family members who have been detained? Do you feel comfortable knowing that these people have to worry about where they will go over winter break, since home isn’t an option for fear of detention en route?
To many of us, the police may look like symbols of order and safety. Under the previsions of this bill, immigrants are encouraged to fear and avoid the police force by going underground in society. This means that when an immigrant is robbed or becomes the victim of a crime, she is less likely to report it. All efforts to improve relationships between the local immigrant community and the police force will be cast aside, and we compromise the security of our community. This is not a risk I support. We are asking for crimes against immigrants to go unreported.
Community organizers and government officials alike refer to the last time ICE conducted raids in New Haven. Houses in Fair Haven were raided; children disappeared from schools, businesses stayed closed and workers stayed home from their jobs. New Haven is still rebuilding the trust in our community that was lost as a result of these raids.
Those raids weren’t specifically tied to Secure Communities, but they are also the result of federal interference in the way Connecticut handles its immigration policy. Connecticut has shown in other ways that its policy on immigration is more lenient than that of other states. For example, Connecticut’s labor policy requires employers to respect contracts regardless of a worker’s immigration status.
Does a community that encourages vigilantes to report anyone they suspect might be an undocumented immigrant — despite the hours of work that immigrants put in every day, the families they raise and put through school and the taxes they pay under false Social Security numbers — sound like a secure community?
The act originally stipulated that cities could opt out of enforcement. But too many cities opted out. Now, all states will be required to implement the act’s provisions on a staggered timeline. In December, Connecticut received the go-ahead.
In most of the country, police departments support Secure Communities. But in New Haven, both citizens and public officials rallied around the immigrant community. I hope Connecticut will follow Massachusetts, Illinois and New York in refusing to enforce the federal act.
As Secure Communities rolls out in Connecticut, ask yourself, is this really building a secure community?
Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.