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Los Angeles city workers will not cooperate with Trump on immigration

Police chief says crime reports by Latinos are down, suggesting fear of deportation is pushing thousands into silence

The anti-Trump rebellion already underway in major US cities is coming into sharper focus. In Los Angeles, authorities on Tuesday issued an order prohibiting all municipal employees from assisting federal immigration officials in their search for undocumented migrants to deport. And the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released data suggesting that Latinos are already losing their trust in law enforcement agencies.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. AP

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti revealed the figures at a Tuesday presentation in East LA, the heart of the city’s Latino community. According to these statistics, reports of sexual assault filed by Latinos have decreased 25% since the beginning of 2017 compared with the same period last year; meanwhile, reports of domestic violence fell by 10% during the same period. Reports by other ethnic groups did not experience similar falls.

Beck said that although there is no clear evidence that this decrease is directly linked to Latinos’ unease over current immigration policies, the LAPD suspects that fear of deportation is making undocumented residents think twice before reporting a crime.

“These policies are making our cities less safe,” said Mayor Garcetti at one of the four immigration events scheduled for Tuesday in the city.

These policies are making our cities less safe

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti

Garcetti began his day at 6am with an appearance on the Hispanic network Univision, where he talked about immigrants’ rights. Later he held a press conference over the phone with other mayors. And later still he met with immigrant communities in East LA to assure them that “the city is here to protect you.”

“If witnesses don’t talk out of fear, if a father does not take his daughter to school because he fears being arrested if he does, that is something that erodes the entire city, that makes us less safe,” he told EL PAÍS after one of these events. “We could see the crime figures rise and people start living in hiding again.”

There are an estimated 800,000-plus illegal migrants living in LA. The city decided back in 1979 that its police would not cooperate with federal immigration agencies and the LAPD ended the practice of stopping people exclusively to find out about their legal status. This policy has been maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations, who were aware that if the large Latino community became afraid of the police, there would be no way to develop an effective security policy.

A man protests Trump's new immigration policies outside the ICE Federal Building in Los Angeles.
A man protests Trump's new immigration policies outside the ICE Federal Building in Los Angeles. REUTERS

The new executive directive issued on Tuesday expands this policy to the Fire Department, Airport Police and Port Police. It also ensures the confidentiality of all information provided by residents to access local services such as public libraries. And it forces municipal employees to report any attempts by the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to secure their cooperation.

There is something symbolic about the move, but it comes at a time when symbols have become important. Also on Tuesday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused the so-called “sanctuary cities,” which refuse to hold undocumented migrants until the ICE can come round to collect them, of posing a threat to public safety.

The Trump administration is basing its aggressive stance against the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants on the claim that they are uncontrollable criminals. But moves like the one made in LA on Tuesday seek to showcase another reality: that an aggressive policy of arrests and deportations will lead millions of people into hiding and hamper police activity in the big cities.

“Ask police chiefs why they have this policy, instead of trying to force them to change it,” the mayor said, rhetorically addressing Trump.

The city decided back in 1979 that its police would not cooperate with federal immigration agencies

The president has threatened to withhold federal funds from cities that refuse to apply his policies. But Garcetti said that he is sure the Constitution is on their side. Among other legal decisions, there is a Supreme Court ruling on Barack Obama’s health reform establishing that federal funds cannot depend on the implementation of the president’s political agenda.

The Day of Immigration Action was a coordinated effort among 60 cities across the US. “This is not about LA, although we are ground zero of this problem,” said the mayor. “It’s not about New York or Chicago. It’s an issue that affects small towns across the country.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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