Two years ago in Denver, four women dropped their domestic abuse cases for fear that appearing in court could make them vulnerable to deportation. In Houston, also in 2017, the number of Hispanics reporting rapes declined by 43 percent. In Los Angeles, the police department announced a similar drop of 25 percent.
Maybe you know of that disturbing pattern. Maybe you don’t. But do you know who is aware? Officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which made at least two arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants Wednesday inside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
The Charlotte arrests are part of a spike of such activity in the past two years, with Department of Homeland Security agents staking out courthouses across the country in search of undocumented immigrants. The tactics have led to an increase of immigrants reluctant to report crimes — a fear that encourages more lawlessness against them, police say.
It’s a real phenomenon, in Charlotte and across the nation. It’s also one that ICE officials and the Trump administration fully understand. They just don’t care.
Yes, we know many people aren’t concerned that undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to criminal behavior. They are, after all, criminals in the eyes of those same people and therefore unworthy of protection and other basic rights. It’s a callow perspective and one that’s become too common in this debate and with this presidency.
But it’s also dangerously shortsighted. The fear that’s stoked by arrests like Wednesday’s threatens the entire immigrant community and its relationship with law enforcement and the justice system. Fear of deportation keeps immigrants from providing testimony not only in crimes and cases involving undocumented immigrants, but those involving legal immigrants and citizens. And not only are undocumented immigrants fearful, but also legal immigrants who worry that they might be wrongly deported or somehow jeopardize their legal status.
Also, as Houston police chief Art Acevedo said when announcing the 2017 drop in reported rapes: “A person that rapes or violently attacks or robs an undocumented immigrant is somebody that is going to harm a natural-born citizen or lawful resident.”
That’s why law enforcement, city leaders and top judicial officials across the country have publicly decried ICE tactics like Wednesday’s arrest. There’s little else they can do, however, and they have been ignored by an administration that vows to use all tools at its disposal to capture those here illegally and deter others from coming.
But such tactics are ineffective as a deterrent to immigrants fleeing far worse circumstances, and the gains of nabbing a handful of people at courthouses aren’t worth the greater harm that comes from those arrests. So why keep doing it? Because like the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and like Donald Trump’s ineffective wall, it’s a way for the president to show he’s being tough on immigrants. It’s a political win, he believes, and little will change until Americans make it a political loss.