HATE IN OUR BACKYARD – A TEACHABLE MOMENT?
The 10 year old son of one of our WISE members came home from school last week sad and confused. His classmate was absent she was staying home to say a heartbreaking goodbye to her aunt and uncle who were being deported. We like to think of our community as a safe and uncomplicated place to raise our children. When we are suddenly forced to confront situations of prejudice we are also forced, as parents, to confront very complicated and deep issues. Issues that are difficult to speak about and may make us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. At these times we look not only to each other, for support and affirmation but also to leaders in our community, to our religious institutions, our schools and to our elected officials. Counselors and school psychologists will, no doubt, remind us that there are “teachable moments” during such times. And, of course there are. Many of us with WISE have a sign on our front lawn that reads: Hate Has no Home Here. While we aspire to this goal in our families, in our County we are seeing our elected officials do the opposite. They propose to use our taxpayer dollars to create divisions, rather than to bridge them.
Steve Schuh, the County Executive, provided concrete evidence of this with his decision to apply to the Federal Government to use Anne Arundel County detention facilities and officers to detain immigrants for minor crimes (a program called 287(g)). Why would he offer county employees to do the job of federal ICE agents? The reason seems to be economic: the federal government will compensate the county $118 per head and guarantees a minimum of 40 beds per night for an additional 1.7 million dollars of revenue to the County per year. Mr. Schuh may think he is a shrewd businessman, increasing revenue without breaking his election promise to not raise taxes. But as residents of this County, we believe that this is shortsighted; this short-term economic gain is a false one and is vastly outweighed by the loss of trust and the hostility that it will generate in our community.
What is the problem Schuh is hoping to solve with 287(g)? Unemployment levels are at all-time lows, crime rates consistently show that immigrants are more law-abiding than third or fourth generation Americans and immigrants have for many decades contributed to our County with their diversity and hard work. Despite repeated requests, Mr. Schuh has refused to meet with his constituents to discuss this issue.
Why the public outcry? First, there is the question of how effective such anti-immigration programs have proven. Numerous independent evaluations of the 287(g) program that Schuh is seeking federal government funds for have shown it be highly problematic. First, it creates a poor working relationship between law enforcement and immigrant communities, making them less likely to collaborate with law enforcement. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the nation’s premier law enforcement association, has stated: “Local police agencies depend on the cooperation of immigrants, legal and [otherwise], in solving all sorts of crimes and in the maintenance of public order. Without assurances that they will not be subject to an immigration investigation and possible deportation, many immigrants with critical information would not come forward, even when heinous crimes are committed against them or their families.”
Second, the program ends up acting as a drain on County purse strings. State and local governments have to pay the majority of costs associated with a 287(g) program including travel, housing, and per diem for officers during training, as well as salaries, overtime and administrative supplies. The reimbursements from the federal government cover only a fraction of the costs spent by states and localities. In neighboring Virginia, a study by the Brookings Institute found that Prince William County had to raise property taxes and take money from its “rainy day” fund to implement its 287(g) program. The report found the program cost $6.4 million in its first year and would cost $26 million over five years. To cut costs, the county slashed $3.1 million from its budget—money that was intended to buy video cameras for police cars.
Third, the broad definition of “serious crimes” used by the program allows for the detention of immigrants who pose no threat. A study on the program by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found “that 287(g) agreements in the state were primarily used to target offenders who posed no threat to public safety or individuals with no criminal record. In that state, a large share of individuals arrested by 287(g) officers… were arrested for traffic violations, such as driving without a license and speeding.” At a recent Town Hall at Annapolis High School, both the Anne Arundel County and the Annapolis City Police Chief stated they will not be participating in or implementing any new immigration enforcement. Law enforcement officials addressed concerns about the 287(g) program and want to focus on the importance of maintaining and building relationships with the community to provide protection and solve crime.
As an elected official Steve Schuh is responsible for representing the citizens of Anne Arundel County. His stance in favor of 287(g) is exactly the kind of influence we do not want to guide our children. Prejudice is powerful and can cause great harm to all of us, whatever our status. It’s all of our responsibility to be kind, inclusive and just in order for us to raise our children in communities that are best for them. Let us call on Mr. Schuh to provide an example rather than impose more division in our neighborhoods. Our communities are strong because they embrace diversity not division.
– Women Indivisible Strong and Effective (WISE) Steering Commitee
 The 287(g) program is named for Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 287(g) became law as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA). Through the 287(g) program, state and local police officers collaborate with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws.
This article was written by Kathy Bain, Lesley Bigden, Moira Buttner-Schnirer, Jen Haber, Monica O’Connor, Rosie Stock and Robin Peters on behalf of the steering committee for WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective).