By involving city law-enforcement agents in an effort to eradicate illegal immigration, the U.S. government has also created a public safety problem, especially in immigrant communities like ours.
Undocumented immigrants, who are no less worthy than the rest of human beings for not having proper papers, do not call the police, even when they are victims or witnesses of crimes, for fear of being deported and separated from their families.
The controversial immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, considered an invaluable tool in ferreting out dangerous foreign criminals, also grants carte blanche to criminals and some in authority to commit abuse against a segment of our community. Furthermore, it endangers any American who may be a victim of a crime witnessed by an undocumented person who fears reporting it.
The program promotes racial profiling of any person who would fit the stereotypical appearance of Hispanics, even when that person may have been born a U.S. citizen. It also gives ammunition to prejudiced agents to unleash their abuse.
If the episodes of alleged police brutality against undocumented Hispanics in Homestead are confirmed, we will understand even better the source of the fear and mistrust that undocumented immigrants feel when they see an agent or a police patrol.
Whether you are in favor or against undocumented immigrants, the use of force against someone who is asking the police for help is unjustified and reprehensible.
According to the arrest warrants, two immigrants in separate cases went to Homestead police Sgt. Jeffrey Rome, while he was working off-duty as a security guard in a night bar, because they had been robbed and needed help. Instead, he allegedly pepper-sprayed one of them three times outside the bar and kicked the second one on his head. Rome is charged with abusing the elderly, battery and false imprisonment for allegedly unprovoked attacks
Two other officers also were arrested. Officer Giovanni Soto is accused of attacking one man outside the bar, while Sgt. Lizanne Deegan is accused of official misconduct for allegedly failing to write a report on Soto’s incident.
Immigrant advocates say that police violence in Homestead is nothing new. Only, this time it was videotaped by undercover detectives who were watching the bar, a hot spot for farmworkers, for an unrelated investigation into human trafficking.
How many times similar episodes might occur in our communities but remain unknown because no one dares to report them?
If the victims were Americans, the public would express its vehement repudiation of police brutality and the authorities would act rapidly to arrest the suspects. Yet, it took one year for the state attorney’s office to make the arrests in this case.
Some police and immigration agents have become very aggressive toward Hispanics, not only in Homestead but in many Florida towns, due to the intensifying national debate about immigration laws and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of people who think Washington is too permissive with the undocumented.
This has prompted, on a national level, biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures and the use of excessive force when dealing with ethnic groups.
Various cases have been documented in Miami-Dade County in which immigration agents and local police officers have detained U.S. citizens with Hispanic surnames to interrogate them about their status. Foreign nationals are required to carry immigration papers at all times. But U.S. citizens are not required to carry papers proving citizenship.
The local police departments deny having policies that encourage the harassment of Hispanics, but the alleged attacks in Homestead illustrate how law-enforcement policies are not necessarily respected by their agents.
Many immigrants without papers work from sunrise to sunset to cultivate and pick the fruits and vegetables that you put in your table, cook your favorite meals in local restaurants, build your houses and clean them. In South Florida we have traditionally coexisted with them in harmony.
We should not allow the virus of xenophobia and racism blowing from Maricopa County, Arizona, to infect us.Editor’s note: Daniel Shoer Roth will be on book leave. His weekly Metro column will return in the fall. To read more about his project, see Saturday’s Editorial pages.