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Suman Raghunathan

Newark Opts Out of an Immigration Dragnet

Among the rabid reports of the undocumented suspects charged in the Newark quadruple murder case, hurray for what’s coming out of Newark and its Mayor Cory Booker.

Booker’s announcement last Friday that he will not allow city police officers to enforce federal immigration laws is welcome news, and makes sense given the onus on him to reduce crime while bolstering community-police relations. It also comes on the heels of a nonbinding Newark Municipal Council resolution committing the city to being a sanctuary for immigrants. Hear, hear. Giving Newark’s police officers the green light to round up undocumented immigrants (or those who, by virtue of their skin color or the language they speak, appear to be undocumented – say hello to racial profiling 2.0, everyone!) simply doesn’t make sense for Newark.

Anti-immigrant media hound that he is, Colorado’s Tom Tancredo held a news conference on Monday in Newark to denounce it as a ‘sanctuary city’ soft on illegal immigration.

Funny – another of the major American metropolises with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ immigration policy is New York City, the nation’s economic powerhouse. Hmm, any thoughts on that connection?

Thing is, Booker (and other innovative big-city mayors like New York’s Bloomberg, Los Angeles’ Villaraigosa, even New Haven’s DeStefano, plus countless sheriffs and police chiefs from cities and towns nationwide) get the connection between good community-police relations, low crime rates, and confidentiality on immigration status. They don’t want their already-overworked paramedics, police officers, and firefighters taking up valuable minutes to ask questions about residents’ immigration status. If residents fear their immigration status will reported to federal immigration authorities, not only will they be reluctant to report crimes – they will also hesitate to report worker exploitation, which turns right around and hurts the American middle class.

Let me connect some of the dots here.

As I’ve written recently,setting up an immigration dragnet in cities like Newark will only push undocumented residents and workers further underground and expose them to poor treatment at the hands of employers who leverage immigration status (or lack thereof) to force workers to accept unfair wages and unsafe working conditions. The result will be concrete and discouraging for Newark, which these days needs all the help it can get. Undocumented workers will be even more exploited and underpaid in an underground economy, and Newark’s middle class will feel the ripple effect on their working conditions and pay when they are unable to compete with undocumented workers’ artificially low wages and poor working conditions.

Like I’ve said before, it’s not the workers’ fault. Blame falls squarely on shady employers who seize the opportunity to squeeze as much as work as possible from their undocumented workers while paying them the lowest wages possible (like the whopping $1.50 to $2 per hour wage for some New York City grocery store workers, for example) with a total disregard (or, more likely, acute regard) for the downward spiral such hiring practices have on American workers’ wages, unionization rates, and worker protections.

Meanwhile, Bill O’Reilly’s viewers are lambasting Rudy Giuliani for his own ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy during his tenure as New York City’s Mayor. Giuliani, of course, is backpedaling furiously as New Jersey elected officials propose resolutions and laws left and right to deputize local police officers as immigration agents and deny public services to undocumented immigrants like emergency room care.

In a bid to quiet the hysteria and (hopefully) actually develop some smart immigration policies, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine announced the formation of a statewide panel to integrate immigrants into communities statewide. I’d like to remind Governor Corzine that an immigration dragnet isn’t a viable strategy to do so.

Suman Raghunathan: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:05 AM, Aug 22, 2007 in Immigration
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