Union Bulletin: Whitman College report on Latinos calls for fair treatment for all people

Daniel Merritt, a researcher with the State of the State for Washington Latinos had the privilege of being featured in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin’s Sunday, March 4th issue. In his article, Daniel argues that Secure Communities breaks up families, places undue burdens on local jails, and farmers who face labor shortages. Moreover, Secure Communities threatens the relationship between latinos and local law enforcement that is the basis for safe communities.

See the article as published below:

 

DANIEL MERRITT
WALLA WALLA UNION-BULLETIN
March 3, 2012
On Feb.16 Whitman College released the 2012 “State of the State for
Washington Latinos” research report. The U-B covered this event with
its story “State of state’ highlights worries, positives for Latinos.”

Many have welcomed our new information about the challenges ahead as
we strive to include everyone in our rapidly changing communities.
Some online responses to the story, by contrast, expressed antagonism
toward immigrants and confusion over our findings.

When readers of this paper take the time and effort to engage in
public discussion about difficult issues like immigration, it’s
important that people understand clearly what our research found.

Our report examined local perspectives on immigration policy and law
enforcement in Benton, Franklin, Yakima and Walla Walla counties. The
issue: recent changes in federal immigration policy, especially the
new “Secure Communities” program, involve local law enforcement and
local jails more heavily in the detention and deportation of
undocumented immigrants. Federal authorities say this program will rid
our communities of violent criminals.

But members of Latino communities here in Eastern Washington say that
instead, the program is breaking up families by deporting people
arrested on minor charges. They also say Secure Communities is making
them wary of contacting the police to report public safety problems,
unless something very serious has happened.

Two colleagues and I interviewed 32 members of the Latino community,
three immigration lawyers, three sheriffs, a police captain and a
social service provider. While our research questions were inspired by
concerns raised by OneAmerica, Washington state’s leading immigrant
integration organization, we conducted our research as independent
scholars.

While it’s true that citizens have little to fear personally when
federal and local officials cooperate to increase the detention and
deportation of undocumented immigrants, many families in the Latino
community have mixed documentation status.

Families can be a combination of citizens, legal residents, and
undocumented immigrants. The people we interviewed were afraid not
just for themselves but for friends and loved ones as well.

Our report does not recommend special treatment for anyone. Instead
our report calls for just treatment for everyone. As the law is
written, immigrants charged with crimes face the same potential
punishments for those crimes that everyone else does.

The problem is that because the Supreme Court does not classify
deportation as punishment for a crime, there is no protection against
a kind of double jeopardy, and no safeguards to ensure that punishment
is proportionate to the crime committed. This means that minor
infractions like driving without a license (which for a citizen in the
state of Washington would generally result in a $250 fine) can result
in deportation. And of course, Secure Communities deports plenty of
undocumented immigrants who are charged with crimes but not convicted.

Our findings suggest that greater discretion needs to be used by jail
officials and ICE agents because Secure Communities, as implemented in
Eastern Washington, is not only unfair in these ways – it also is
detaining and deporting a lot of small fry who are not dangerous
criminals. Residents of Walla Walla and the other places we studied
also should be concerned about public spending on Secure Communities.
The immigration lawyers we interviewed stated that local jails often
hold undocumented immigrants longer then the 48 hours for which ICE
will reimburse them. This means that local tax dollars are being spent
to detain people who might not even have been convicted. More research
needs to be done that examines the full financial costs of the program.

We should also be concerned about other costs to our community and our
economy that stem from deportation. This year alone, farmers all over
Eastern Washington have reported a labor shortage. States such as
Alabama and Arizona with truly draconian immigration laws have seen
billions of dollars in lost revenue as many Latinos (not just
undocumented immigrants) left the state because they felt unwelcome
and racially. Many of the undocumented community members we
interviewed had contributed to their local communities for years. They
clearly identified themselves as Washington residents. In Walla Walla,
all undocumented interview subjects had lived in Walla Walla for over
fifteen years.

We all know that Washington is not, and won’t become, another Arizona
or Alabama – symbols of intolerance and fear. But because public
officials have made so little public information available about
Secure Communities, and because of the program’s real effects, Latinos
are concerned that Secure Communities might be a step towards harsher
anti-immigrant laws.

What both our documented and undocumented interview subjects wanted
was more outreach from law enforcement and information about
immigration enforcement in their communities. They also urged public
officials not to use the pretext of minor infractions to deport hard-
working people who have lived here most of their lives and contribute
to the community.

I urge all readers to read our report at walatinos.org and to continue
this valuable discussion in the upcoming weeks.

Daniel Merritt, a junior at Whitman College, is a student researcher:
He can be contacted at merritde@whitman.edu and Professor Paul
Apostolidis can be reached at apostopc@whitman.edu

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