While Santa Barbara promotes itself as a safe tourist destination, the “Secure Communities” Program implemented by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is rapidly attacking the reality of public safety for residents and visitors alike. As Chris Meagher points out in the April 28, 2011 Independent, instead of targeting “the worst of the hard-core criminals,” the ICE program encourages local police to round up jaywalkers, people texting in parked cars with keys in the ignition, drivers with a rosary hanging from a rear-view mirror, or a mother calling 911 to report a crime, non-crimes that account for 80 percent of detentions and referrals to ICE in the current incarnation of this program in Santa Barbara, according to ICE’s own statistics.
This both shocks and frightens me. A word of caution to tourists from Spain; Latin America; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, our sister city; Alabama (the latter enjoying a suntan after lots of beach time); or Latino producers attending our Santa Barbara International Film Festival: Anyone who looks “Latino” or speaks Spanish in a public area (like me—I am of Italian and Polish heritage and am fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, and French) is at risk for being arrested for littering solely because s/he might be an undocumented worker ripe for ICE’s deportation mill.
Does this remind you of what happened in Maricopa County, Arizona, and, eventually, in the entire state because of their much-publicized law enlisting local police to profile Latinos? National and international public outcry was deafening, causing a boycott of the state by many groups who understood that when one group’s rights are violated, no one is safe.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. published an article entitled “Arizona, Bowing to Business, Softens Stand on Immigration” on March 18, 2011 in The New York Times, citing a State Chamber of Commerce estimate of lost tourism business ranging from $15 million to $150 million since its horrific profiling law was passed in April, 2010.
The lack of safety for all not only affects the economy of tourism. Its tentacles reach into all aspects of society. Local friends with Latino relatives living in Arizona tell me stories of previously productive Latino families languishing in detention camps awaiting deportation, while others, fearing deportation and its resulting separation from or economic hardship for their families, have fled the state, leaving in their wake abandoned homes, cars, and other possessions.
The social costs are staggering, with children the most frequent casualties of this attack on the immigrant community, when one or both parents suddenly disappear. Women also suffer, fearing to report domestic abuse or rape by a stranger lest they, or their spouse or partner, be deported for merely contacting the police. Others are reluctant to report crimes, since they might be arrested for merely speaking out for the public good.
The use of police to act as immigration investigators must certainly take away from other important duties. In addition, the fact that the referrals to ICE via fingerprints are made before a suspect is arraigned for and/or convicted of any crime sends chills down the spine of Lady Justice.
As Meagher points out at the end of the Independent article, groups who support the current law cite the need to eliminate the hard-core criminals to protect public safety. This, of course, is in everyone’s best interests, including those of law-abiding undocumented workers who are an integral part of California’s labor force.
While we await and work for long-overdue Federal Immigration Reform, residents of Santa Barbara County can take a step forward by urging the passage of California’s Trust Act. This act allows any jurisdiction to opt out of the Secure Communities program in its present form, Each local area will then have the opportunity to sift through transparent legislation to decide to work with this program. A “yes” answer then allows modification in its implementation so that the Secure Communities program can truly target hard-core criminals without destroying everyone’s public safety, human and civil rights, and social and economic stability in the process.
Barbara Lotito, Ph.D., is a core member of Despierta, bilingual theater group in Santa Barbara, and a member of the board of directors of PUEBLO. A pioneer in cross-cultural communication, diversity training, and the teaching of Spanish, she is also an SBCC Continuing Education instructor, and was a tenured professor at the University of Connecticut until 1990.