As the Trump administration ramps up deportations and cracks down on so-called "sanctuary cities," mayors and prosecutors across the country say undocumented immigrants have begun avoiding law enforcement at all costs — declining to testify in court cases and refusing to report crimes.
In one of the most notable cases, four women in Denver who recently made domestic abuse allegations declined to pursue their cases out of fear they would be seen at the courthouse by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and deported, according to Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson.
Their reticence, Bronson said, came after a video was released last month showing ICE agents waiting in a Denver courthouse and telling an attorney they were there to make an arrest.
"Without victims willing to testify we've had to dismiss those charges and the violent offenders have seen no consequences for their violent acts," Bronson told NPR. "We have grave concerns here that they distrust the court system now and that we're not going to have continued cooperation of victims and witnesses."
An ICE spokesman told NPR that its officers generally only make arrests in courthouses if they have "exhausted other options."
Similar scenarios have played out in cities across the country. Prosecutors in Austin said they encountered at least one recent instance of a domestic violence victim who refused to cooperate with investigators because she feared being deported. That incident came shortly after ICE officers arrested a man inside a courthouse where he had been scheduled for a routine hearing, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler mentioned the domestic violence victim in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, noting that the county's ability to prosecute criminals depends upon victims' and witnesses' willingness to come forward.
"That safety we enjoy in this community is due in part to the trust relationship between our public safety officers and the community," Adler said.
Austin is in the heart of Travis County, Texas, which has already come under fire from the Trump administration for recently announcing it will refuse to honor most federal requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants past their scheduled jail release dates.
The Department of Homeland Security released a report last week calling out jurisdictions that had refused to honor detainer requests. Travis County made up 142 of the 206 instances listed.
'We have to build relationships'
The Trump Administration's immigration policies have put many police departments in between the federal government and the communities they serve.
Some police officials, like those in Chicago, have argued that cracking down on immigration harms public safety. A 2013 study has helped bolster that argument, finding that up to 70% of undocumented immigrants said they would be less likely to call police for help, due to their fears of being deported.
Chicago is in a particular predicament both because of its status as a "sanctuary city" and its soaring murder rate. The city has been a target of public scorn from Trump, who has accused the mayor there of being soft on crime and previously threatened to "send in the feds" to solve the city's gun violence crisis.
Yet officials in Chicago have maintained they won't use its local police department to enforce federal immigration law.
"In local departments we have to build relationships, and we build it on trust. It's one of the major components we use to solve crimes in the community," retired Chicago police officer Richard Wooten told Chicago magazine. "We'll never have that kind of relationship if we begin to enforce immigration."
In other cities, officials have said they fear that trust has already been compromised — undocumented immigrants aren't even reporting perpetrators to police, let alone testifying against them in court.
In Texas, El Paso county attorney Jo Anne Bernal told The Guardian that three victims sought to withdraw their cases due to immigration fears.
Bernal reported an "alarming" 12% drop in people seeking protective orders, shortly after an undocumented woman was arrested at a local courthouse where she was seeking a protective order. Bernal, the county attorney, said she couldn't be certain the drop was due to undocumented people, but told The Guardian the numbers were unusual.
The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday also announced that the amount of sexual assault reports from the city's Latino population since the beginning of 2017 have plunged 25% from the same period last year, and domestic violence reports have dropped by 10%.
"Imagine, a young woman, imagine your daughter, your sister, your mother … not reporting a sexual assault, because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart," police chief Charlie Beck told the LA Times. He noted that sexual assault and domestic violence reports have not dropped among other ethnic groups in the city.
ICE, however, dismissed the LAPD's numbers and said its officials consider whether individuals are victims of crimes before deciding to deport them.
"The greater threat to public safety is local law enforcement's continuing unwillingness to honor immigration detainers," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the LA Times.
"Rather than transferring convicted criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, are routinely releasing these offenders back onto the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community."
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