Protesters gathered in downtown Fort Worth on Tuesday to persuade the City Council to join the legal challenge of Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” bill passed by the Texas Legislature this session.
“It’s scary,” said one protester on the steps of City Hall, “to live somewhere your whole life and now ... have to feel afraid that my dad can’t drive up the road late at night because he might get pulled over and not have his visa on him and end up in jail.”
That’s a frequently cited feeling.
The law will not take effect until September, so it remains to be seen if such fears are founded.
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Yet perception is a driving force behind immigration policy. And the sense that all of a sudden police will be hounding people of Hispanic origin for their “papers” and sticking them in jail cells if they can’t provide them has animated opponents of the law.
SB 4, the argument goes, will make some communities feel less safe, more on their guard and less trusting of law enforcement.
And when law enforcement officers are not trusted, crimes go unreported and criminals remain on the street.
SB 4 specifically protects victims and witnesses from being asked about their immigration status, but that doesn’t appear to alleviate these fears.
Speaking to the City Council about SB 4 on Tuesday, Assistant Police Chief Ed Kraus said police have already noticed “certain members of our community not reporting crime,” as well an uptick in crimes against immigrants.
That’s a serious claim. A FWPD public information officer later clarified that the department does “not have specific data” to support it. The statement made Tuesday was based on “officers talking to citizens” and the citizens expressing “they are not reporting crimes as much as they used to.”
So the assertion was anecdotal at best, based again, on what is perceived to be happening.
In some U.S. cities, though, data appears to confirm what FWPD claims it is seeing in North Texas — and it has nothing to do with SB 4.
A Five-Thirty-Eight analysis of crime stats in Dallas, Denver and Philadelphia found evidence that “supports the notion that immigrants, or Latinos more generally, could be reporting fewer crimes since [President] Trump took office.”
Trump’s deterrent effect in the realm of immigration is further revealed by the dramatic decrease in illegal border crossings since January.
That’s a surprising outcome for an administration that has delivered plenty of bluster but accomplished little with regard to immigration policy or enforcement.
Between Jan. 20 (when Trump assumed office) and March 13, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportations were down 1.2 percent from the same period last year, when Barack Obama occupied the White House.
Obama was perceived as being lax on enforcement — which probably accounted for the surge of illegal immigration during his time in office. But his administration oversaw the forcible removal of more than 3 million unauthorized immigrants — a tally neither George W. Bush nor Bill Clinton came close to reaching. Trump may not either, considering how his administration’s deportation numbers have continued to trend downward.
But perception is what matters to opponents of immigration enforcement.
Matthew Feeney of the CATO Institute makes this point in Newsweek.
Trump’s rhetoric (not his policies) “has prompted a chilling effect on Latino crime reporting across the country.”
Feeney’s implied solution? The U.S. should not enforce laws that have a deleterious impact on crime reporting. That could mean, in effect, all immigration laws.
The National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty explains this contention well: “The argument amounts to saying that all internal enforcement of immigration law should be held hostage by existing circumstances, in particular a large population of illegal immigrants.”
And if that’s the case, “nearly all immigration laws are impossible to endorse” because there will always be a community that is disproportionately affected by the nature of immigration enforcement itself.
SB 4 would benefit from some fixes that address concerns about racial profiling — perhaps requiring police departments to keep statistics on immigration status queries and outlining consequences for misuse.
But like most other immigration laws, the perception of what it could do is probably more chilling than what it will actually do, unless the Texas cities’ lawsuit is successful in gutting the law.
And this all calls into question how much perception should govern policy and enforcement.
If it must, can we continue to enforce immigration laws at all?