Immigration officials descending on a woman who went to court seeking protection from an allegedly abusive boyfriend is exactly the kind of enforcement problem sanctuary cities are worried about—with good reason. This is not behavior that’s going to make America safer (or even safe “again,” since some are concerned that the recent increase in crime is the start of a new trend).
A woman in El Paso County, Texas, went to court to try to get a protective order against a boyfriend she claimed was abusing her. At the courthouse, according to a county attorney, a pack of immigration officials staked the woman out and then detained her.
This was not some random occurrence as a result of President Donald Trump’s call for tougher enforcement. Immigration officials tracked down the woman because of a tip. The attorney, who represents domestic violence victims seeking help from the court, worried that it was the abusive boyfriend who snitched on her.
In the inevitable “This person is no angel” category of reporting, she had apparently been deported before repeatedly and had also been charged with crimes in the past. We don’t want to ignore those details. The attorney assisting her with the protective order said she was unaware of her criminal background at the time.
But just as we should not allow the “He’s no angel” excuse to let possible incidences of police abuse of citizens to slide, we shouldn’t use it to ignore the potential consequences of this mechanism of immigration enforcement. The image of a bunch of immigration officers descending on a woman who turned to the court for protection from a violent man is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to spread around and discourage immigrants from cooperating with the police or turning to the police for help. The consequence will be a festering of criminal behavior, not a cure.
Step away from immigration and consider the context of our drug wars and our war on sex work and prostitution. We know that because of enforcement of the law, people who voluntarily participate in these black markets cannot easily turn to police for help if they’re victimized or harmed because they have to worry that they’ll be arrested themselves. And so we have pushes for things like “Good Samaritan” laws that would protect those who report drug overdoses to authorities from being arrested for possession. This helps save lives.
Making immigration enforcement harsher makes it harder for people to turn to the government for assistance and to inform about those actual “bad dudes” Trump worries about. The great paradox of black markets (and illegal immigration is certainly an example of a black market) is that harsher government intervention doesn’t eliminate them—it makes participation all the more dangerous.
As Matt Welch previously noted, even Trump crony Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor, understood that overly harsh enforcement attitudes toward otherwise peaceful illegal immigrants made his communities less safe:
As [Giuliani] once put it, you need to “protect undocumented immigrants…from being reported to the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] while they are using city services that are critical for their health and safety, and for the health and safety of the entire city.” If residents live in fear that each interaction with a government employee could lead to deportation, they are not going to report crime, seek medical attention for communicable diseases, or send their kids to school.
And when that happens, perhaps just like the drug war, there will be calls for even harsher government crackdowns from those who think the government just isn’t trying hard enough. If you don’t believe me, check out Kentucky, where lawmakers are considering even harsher criminal penalties for opioid trafficking.