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Our police cars carry the motto "To protect and to serve." I like that. And in that spirit, I want to suggest that when our local law enforcement participates in the 287(g) program, we cede to the federal government our local power to protect and to serve. I believe the program does not appreciably protect us, and that it does actual harm, not service, to our local community.

The federal program deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents for the federal government. Only Washington and Benton counties participate in Arkansas. Nationally about 80 of the 3,141 counties have 287(g) agreements. I could find no evidence the counties that do not participate in 287(g) suffer from more aggressive federal immigration enforcement.

The agreement obligates our local law enforcement to ask every person booked into our jail about what country they originate from. If they are from another country, they will be evaluated for their immigration status. Our officers then alert Immigration and Customs Service, who can put a hold on the person's legal process. ICE can detain them, often in large prisons in other states for long periods of time, and potentially deport them.

Proportionality is fundamental to justice. When someone breaks a law, from jaywalking to murder, the punishment needs to fit the crime. I want the justice system first to protect us, to make sure that people who are violent and dangerous are separated from the public.

I also want the justice system to motivate honest and safe behavior. If someone drives 40 in a 30 mph zone, please issue a ticket and fine them, for example.

Research in a North Carolina county similar to ours found that close to 50 percent of all immigration detainers there started from simple traffic enforcement.

Separate research, published in 2018 by Dr. Juan Jose Bustamante of the University of Arkansas, documented some of the catastrophic consequences of local screening of our immigrant neighbors. He published stories of three young men who lived in Arkansas for many years. Each was picked up for driving without a license, though each was driving safely. One young man was driving his father home because his father drank too much at a family birthday party. Unlike some states, Arkansas doesn't allow residents without legal status to apply for a driver's license. ICE detained and eventually deported all three of these neighbors of ours.

A productive life should not be ruined because of a simple mistake, even a stupid mistake, especially if the person is a good neighbor and is not a threat to the community.

These young people posed no danger or threat to Northwest Arkansas. All contributed to our community through their work and relationships. We've invested in their future through our public education. Now we've lost that investment. They were in networks of family, friends and churches. Those networks are now injured and grieving. Those families now distrust our justice system and are unlikely to report crimes, even violent crimes they might witness. This does not serve our community.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found that immigrants generate $7 in business revenue and tax contributions for every $1 Arkansas spends on services (education, health care, corrections). Immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence than native-born citizens. They are more than twice as likely to start businesses as native-borns, and new businesses are the very best job creators. The U.S. is now at full employment. Our birthrate is falling and Boomers are retiring. We need immigrants for our robust free enterprise system to continue to thrive.

If all our neighbors without papers were suddenly raptured out of Northwest Arkansas, our region would be crippled, socially and economically. Thousands of families and businesses would become instantly vulnerable.

People have different and reasoned opinions about how our immigration laws need to be changed or enforced. That's a national conversation. But our local reality is that immigrant neighbors live and work among us. They have families and loving relationships. They contribute to our well being and to the vitality of our community. They belong to us, and we need to stand up for them.

The Bible has some pertinent wisdom. At least 25 verses command us to apply the same laws to aliens, strangers and sojourners as we apply to native residents. Jesus said simply, "Love your neighbor as yourself." When asked "Who is my neighbor?" he told a story about a foreigner, the Good Samaritan.

Commentary on 02/04/2020

Print Headline: Hurting our neighbors

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