Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Police going to far on Immigration?
by Amy Gottlieb

Today's Star Ledger reports on two Brazilians who were detained by Newark police when they reported finding a woman's body in a trash bag. Both men are journalists and recognized community leaders -- one had even received a Citizen's Award from the Newark Police Department. This overzealousness on the part of the police officers is exactly what was feared by many advocates and immigrant communities when New Jersey's Attorney General Anne Milgram issued her recent directive regarding immigration status and arrests.

Interestingly, this was a case of a crime being reported, not committed. No arrests were made, yet the police officers in question focused on the immigration status of the two who had reported the crime. And so much attention is being paid to immigration status that safety, security, and basic common sense are left behind.

The Brazilian community in the Ironbound now sees as damaged its relationship of trust with Newark police and city government, and this will inevitably have a direct impact on future communications and reporting. That impact will be felt in Newark and beyond.

I have to question what purpose this incident served any of the parties involved. Do the Newark police benefit?

I think not, given the outcry and frustration heard by a tight-knit community in the city. Do federal authorities benefit (if they were notified, which is not clear)? No benefit, except for one more person to add to their statistics. The individuals who were detained or their families have been humiliated, for sure. One may fear deportation. Both will now question their willingness to act to the benefit of their community when they cannot trust authorities. And what about the poor woman whose body was found, or her family? Not mentioned, anywhere.

So we have to then ask why? Why would the police act this way if not for misguided public pressure to "do something" about immigration? Are they trying to prove a point that they can arrest people on immigration status? It is no secret that immigrants live in New Jersey and throughout the US without status. Local officials, state officials, federal officials, and the rest of us all know that New Jersey is home to undocumented immigrants. And yes, once again, I refuse to say the 'i' word, not because I am pretending that people have not violated a law, but because I refuse to use language that dehumanizes anyone, anywhere, ever. And because some laws, including our immigration laws, need to be changed to reflect the current realities and needs of future citizens. It is the responsibility of all of us to understand the myriad reasons that someone might be undocumented, and to support federal legislation that offers meaningful change to the status quo by providing opportunities for them to obtain legal documentation. Because the status quo does not work, and leads us further down the slippery slope of forfeiting safety, security, and common sense to prove a point that is no longer worth proving.

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