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SPLC: Trump immigration order would harm communities and law enforcement

President Trump’s threat to cut off federal funds to “sanctuary” jurisdictions will harm all residents of these areas – not just undocumented immigrants, according to briefs the Southern Poverty Law Center filed Wednesday in support of two California counties that have brought federal lawsuits over Trump’s threat to local governments.

San Francisco and Santa Clara counties have adopted policies that prevent the federal government from commandeering their resources to enforce a national immigration enforcement agenda, which is within the counties’ rights under the 10th Amendment.

Trump’s executive order, however, purports to give U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions the power to divert funds for hospitals and other programs away from communities with such policies. Santa Clara County could lose $1.7 billion if designated a sanctuary jurisdiction by Sessions, according to the Los Angeles Times. The counties have argued, correctly, that any such defunding attempts would be unconstitutional, but the threat of defunding could frighten local jurisdictions into compliance. They are seeking a nationwide injunction to block the order.

The SPLC’s amicus briefs, which have been joined by more than 30 other civil rights groups, describe how cooperation and trust between residents and law enforcement break down when local police officers begin enforcing immigration law – a federal responsibility.

“When local police are forced by the federal government to be federal immigration agents, nobody wins,” said Naomi Tsu, SPLC deputy legal director. “Such policies create lasting harm by degrading trust between the police and community members, decreasing public safety and encouraging racial profiling.”

According to a 2012 study cited in the brief, 44 percent of Latinos were less likely to contact the police if they were victims of crime, due to the fear that the police would ask about their immigration status or the status of people they know.

The SPLC’s filings for San Francisco and Santa Clara counties cite the story of Oscar Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant. In October 2014, he fled the scene of a car accident in which no one was hurt because he was afraid of the local police in Alabama. It’s unlikely he would have fled had he not been scared of local police cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Since he fled, everyone involved in the accident has been negatively affected. Rather than simply dealing with the consequences of a minor car accident, Ramirez now faces felony charges and deportation. The other motorist was forced to deal with a hit-and-run incident and a criminal investigation. The police had to spend time and money on an investigation rather than resolve a routine traffic accident.

Ramirez’s family, including his wife and four U.S. citizen children, was severely impacted by the time he spent in immigration detention because he lost his job and was separated from his family.

The brief also describes how forcing communities to enforce federal immigration law can lead to racial profiling and other abuses because police may stop Latinos for traffic violations as a pretext for investigating their immigration status. The brief includes a study of Latinos’ perceptions of police involvement in immigration enforcement. The study found that 62 percent of Latinos – including citizens as well as documented and undocumented immigrant respondents – said that police officers stop Latinos without good reason or cause “very or somewhat often.”

Other members of the community may use the threat of calling law enforcement as a way to exploit immigrant workers who complain about work conditions.

“The strongest communities are those in which everybody feels safe and is welcome to participate fully,” Tsu said. “The court should allow sanctuary cities to remain just that – safe cities.”