One of the first things both new police recruits and prosecutors learn in training is that public safety is predicated on community trust. We cannot effectively fulfill our mission of promoting the safety and well-being of communities if they lack trust in, and respect for, our justice system. That is why we joined 80 law enforcement and criminal justice leaders from across the country last month in an amicus (friend of the court) brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court and defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program that the Trump administration seeks to terminate.
Over the last three years, the federal government’s erosion of immigrant protections and efforts to entangle localities in immigration enforcement have jeopardized critical relationships with communities. While some have argued that these policies are designed to keep Americans safe, in reality, they do just the opposite.
When immigrant communities cannot trust law enforcement – such as when they believe that contacting police or cooperating with prosecutors could lead to deportation for themselves or others – the system breaks down and the entire community suffers. One recent study found that individuals living in communities of recent immigrants are less likely to report violent crime. In particular, in neighborhoods where 65 percent of residents are immigrants, there is only a 5 percent chance that a victim will report a violent crime, compared with a 48 percent chance in a neighborhood where only 10 percent of residents are born outside the United States.
The common-sense antidote to these concerns is sometimes called “community policing” and “community prosecution” – an approach to policing and justice in which local law enforcement and prosecutors partner with the communities they serve to reduce crime and promote public safety. And it requires us to interact with neighborhood residents in a manner that fortifies essential bonds of trust and encourages cooperation. Ultimately, that trust encourages community members to report crimes, assist with investigations, and testify at trial – all of which are essential to protecting communities. And that is why we have joined the chorus seeking to preserve programs such as DACA that preserve these often fragile relationships.
Put simply: DACA makes our jobs easier and, in turn, our communities safer.
That’s because strong bonds between law enforcement and communities also incentivize good behavior. People are more likely to cooperate with police and obey the law when they perceive the system as legitimate and have faith in the integrity of the justice system.
We have seen firsthand that effective community policing and prosecution also requires strong relationships with immigrants – both documented and undocumented – who make up significant portions of our populace. We have worked hard to build trust and understanding in our communities and as a result, we have all benefited from their increased cooperation with our criminal justice colleagues.
The president’s immigration restrictions, however, are driving immigrant communities underground. Law enforcement officers participating in one recent national survey reported seeing an across-the-board decline in immigrant communities’ willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Roughly one-fifth of police officers surveyed reported that, in 2017, immigrants were less willing than they were in 2016 to make police reports, less likely to help police when they arrived at the scene of the crime, less likely to assist with subsequent investigations, and less willing to work with prosecutors. As a result, more than half of the law enforcement officials surveyed reported that crimes such as domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault have become more difficult to investigate.
If we asked the people responsible for keeping Americans, both documented and undocumented, safe what furthers that objective, we would hear in response that sensible immigration laws and the separation of law enforcement and immigration enforcement are vital to the safety and security of our communities.
DACA, in particular, has helped to build trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. Since the program was implemented in 2012, two-thirds of DACA recipients reported being less afraid of law enforcement, and 59 percent said they would report a crime now in a situation in which they would not have reported it before.
Criminal justice leaders are charged with promoting public safety and pursuing justice. We cannot fulfill these mandates if parts of our communities do not trust us. Continuing the DACA program will promote these objectives and ensure the safety of, and service to, all members of the community that law enforcement is sworn to protect. This is good common sense.
Jerry Clayton is Sheriff of Washtenaw County, Mich. Mark Gonzalez is the District Attorney of Nueces County, Texas. Miriam Aroni Krinsky is a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.