Recently, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick refused to allow the state to participate in the federal Secure Communities deportation program. Under the program, state and local authorities are integrated with the Department of Homeland Security to check the immigration status of everyone who is arrested. While the program is intended to deport criminals, many of the undocumented immigrants who are deported have not been convicted of a crime. Governor Patrick expressed concerns that the program could strain relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement, and critics worry that undocumented immigrants could be deterred from reporting crimes due to the risk of deportation.
State Representative Ryan Fattman has a somewhat different perspective on the issue. When asked if an undocumented immigrant who was raped should be afraid to go to the police, Fattman responded, “if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward…. If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things.” He later clarified his statement, saying, “if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.”
Now, regardless of your views on immigration policy, discouraging people from reporting crimes is possibly the worst idea ever – especially when a particular group is singled out. It designates undocumented immigrants as a de facto outlaw class, vulnerable to all manner of abuse from criminals while being intimidated into silence under the threat of deportation. As a deterrent to crime, this is both unethical and unprecedented in modern times. Yes, being in the country illegally is against the law, obviously. But even convicted criminals are not subject to this. Nobody is sentenced to be raped or beaten or attacked at will by anyone who wishes to do so. They are still protected under the law, and the fact that someone is living here illegally does not justify effectively rescinding all of those protections.
If this is meant to scare people away from immigrating illegally, the reality is that some of them will still choose to take their chances here. And given this fact, you have now signaled to criminals that this group of people can be victimized with impunity. If you want to commit crimes, do it to them – they won’t tell anyone. But a crime against someone who’s here illegally is still a crime. And when these crimes go unreported, the criminals are still out there. When a rape victim is afraid to go to the police, that rapist is now walking free. Knowing that undocumented immigrants are safer for them to attack, they might very well target anyone who merely looks like they might be here illegally. As a result, the entire community is now in danger, because someone thought people should be afraid to report crime.
It’s clear that Ryan Fattman is quite eager to enforce the law, but ironically, his interpretation of it would just enable criminal behavior. The social cost of the deterrence he endorses is simply unthinkable. If keeping people out of the country requires letting criminals run rampant within our borders, maybe it’s time to come up with a better plan. I’m not saying I have the answer to this, but I am saying that this is stupid. Those who support this shortsightedness have not only lost their humanity – they’ve lost their minds.