marlienebastien_fc.jpgOn July 1, 2009, current city of Miami Chief of Police John Timoney put out a press release titled, “Law Enforcement Leaders highlight How Broken Immigration System Hurts Public Safety.”

Why was it unbelievable? Because we have for a long time brought attention to law enforcement adhering to and adopting the 287(g) policy. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program gives authorization to federal government officials to sign agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration officers.
Basically, once an agreement is signed, police officers are allowed to carry out the functions of federal agents, including investigation, apprehension and detention.

What is the impact of such an agreement?

The most serious impact is the deterioration of the relationship between law enforcement and local communities. Immigrants are not space aliens with no attachment to us mortals:  They “r” us.

They live, work, and play in our communities.  If they don’t trust our police officers because they identify them with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, then we can’t rely on them when it matters – like when a crime is committed.

Said Chief  Timoney:  “All our citizens are directly affected, whether they are immigrants or not, by these policies. Immigrant victims and witnesses of violent crimes will not come forward if they fear their “local police” will deport them. This affects everyone, as it hampers law enforcement efforts to thwart criminal activity in our neighborhoods.

Austin, Texas Police Chief Art Acevedo was also in town to lend a hand.  His passionate plea for immigration reform took all of us by surprise.

“When an old lady witnesses the kidnapping of a child and is afraid to help, we know that it is not in the best interest of public safety to keep people like her in the shadows of fear,’’
Acevedo said. “It is time to remove the emotions of September 11 and focus on reality. Those sheriffs who have implemented 287(g) now fill their jails with the undocumented, leaving no room for real criminals. Now, how smart is that?”

The fact is, public safety is not the only issue here.  Arturo Venegas Jr., project director of Law Enforcement Initiative from Sacramento, California was unequivocal: “We understand the necessity to secure our borders. However, local cops don’t have the education or the resources to enforce federal laws. It is a matter of resources and priorities.  Am I going to spend my meager resources to arrest criminal elements or to deport a landscaper who came here in search of a better life? Our job is to arrest criminals, not immigrants.  We do not want to invest our time and resources in civil matters!”

When the official presentations were over, Chief Timoney invited the press to ask questions. But immigration advocates from several agencies did not want to be laissez pour contre (Creole for left out of the debate). 

They posed several questions to assess Chief Timoney’s true commitment about immigration reform.  After all, it is the same Timoney who erected an “Iron Berlin Wall”  during the Free Trade Area of the Americas events of  2003. Protesters and journalists were allegedly harassed and beaten without provocation.  Many lawsuits were brought against the police department. Some were successful.

Naturally, the chief looked out of place in this unusual role. He also turned heads standing with Vice President Joe Biden in the White House in recent days.  Stranger things will happen in the coming years.  There is a transformation going on in our society.  It is probably the Obama effect.

Speculation is flying left and right. Some claim that the chief has ambitions beyond the walls of the police station. Who knows? Politicians have an exacerbated flair.  They also have an advantage.  They are oftentimes in the know while we’re kept in the dark.  Watch them and swim with the flow!

Meanwhile, in our petite monde (French for small world), we say to Miami Law Enforcement: il etait temps! (French for “It is about time!’’) 

The cost of participation in 287(g) certainly outweighs its benefits. As Cheryl Little often says: “The police should spend our taxpaying dollars to go after the real criminals, not our hardworking immigrants!’’ Ditto!

Merci, Chief Timoney, for standing up for Immigration Reform!

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.