Houston police are struggling with the effects of a federal mandate that forces jails to check on the immigration status of detainees. Predictably enough, it has left a lot of people scared to talk to law enforcement, even when they have been the victims of a crime. Beat cops and other officers aren't required to inquire about immigration status, but the new rule makes people in the country illegally even more nervous about bringing official attention to themselves. The Houston Chronicle gives a tragic example of the unintended consequence of the federal rule:
For [Homicide Sgt. Brian] Harris, this recent case in southwest Houston held a particularly rough lesson in witness cooperation. Just days before the Jan. 1 homicide near Stella Link and the 610 Loop, the 18-year-old victim's brother had spotted a break-in at a townhouse across the street.
The brother, an illegal immigrant, didn't call police to report the Dec. 27 burglary, Harris said, even though he recognized the suspect, a drifter known around the neighborhood….
That same drifter is now the prime suspect in the killing of that witness's brother, 18-year-old Uvaldo Gallardo, and the shooting of his other brother, 25-year-old Hugo Gallardo, whose spinal cord was severed by the bullet, leaving him paralyzed.
But there was another twist, Harris said: The handgun used in the shootings — a .40-caliber Glock — had been stolen in the townhouse burglary. …
The sergeant said it took the help of the dead teenager's brother and friends to help locate witnesses, who eventually offered up Leandro Lozano-Jiminez, the drifter.
In the meantime, Harris said, Lozano-Jiminez made it safely to Michoacan, Mexico, and remains a fugitive.
Since Houston partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Secure Communities program to run automated immigration checks on all detainees, members of Houston's immigrant communities have been increasingly reluctant to speak with the police. Getting local law enforcement involved in enforcing immigration laws might seem like a good way to supplement ICE's limited—compared to the scope of illegal immigration in the United States—resources, but it seems clear that in very concrete ways, the requirement is making Houston less safe.
For more on the link, or lack thereof, between immigration and crime, see Steve Chapman's "Immigration and Crime."