Boston won’t turn its police officers into ICE agents

May 8, 2017 News
Mayor Marty Walsh

RECENT DEBATES OVER immigration enforcement have focused on the role of local police in the community. This issue is not new for Boston. We’ve been working on it for years. We’ve found that when it comes to public safety, building trust is more effective than stoking fear. Consider one day last fall. We were walking down Warren Street with other city officials, pastors, and police officers. We spoke with families at the Roxbury YMCA; we stopped by Little Scobie Playground; and we visited with seniors at Rockland Street Elderly Housing. Our group kept growing, as more and more neighbors joined us along the way.

Representatives of the administration have even claimed that if a city doesn’t force its police to round up immigrants, then it must not care about stopping crime. This argument is seriously misguided — and it’s simply untrue. Our police need residents to trust them. Only then do people feel safe enough to come forward, report crimes, and help with investigations. The administration essentially wants to turn local police into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. This approach would do little to prevent terror attacks, and it would actually make our communities less safe. Cities all over the country, in both blue states and red states, know this to be true.

The data back us up. Earlier this year, Thomas Wong, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed counties from an ICE data set. He found that large metropolitan areas ICE identifies as “sanctuary cities” had fewer crimes per capita than nonsanctuary cities. What’s more, they had higher median income, less poverty, and higher employment rates. Studies have also shown that immigrants commit fewer crimes than people who were born in the United States.

It’s much easier for police to investigate crimes when residents feel safe talking to them. And when families stay together, it’s possible for people to pursue education, find employment, and contribute to our economy.

Victims of domestic violence illustrate just how destructive the opposite approach can be. Too many people (women and children in particular) are afraid that if they call the police for help, they or a family member could be detained or deported based on immigration status. So they continue to suffer in silence.

In Boston, we will not turn our local police officers into ICE agents. We know that protecting our most vulnerable residents makes our city safer. And our city has a long history of doing just that. That day last fall in Roxbury, when the kids ran to greet Commissioner Evans, we were taking part in one of the Twelfth Baptist Church’s weekly peace walks. They started back in the early ’90s, after homicides skyrocketed in Boston. We’ve embraced the peace walk and all it represents once again — bringing it to more communities that have suffered from gang violence, such as in East Boston last year.

We are far from perfect. But the data, and, more important, our neighbors tell us that we are moving in the right direction. In Boston, we will not undo all this good work. When we walk together, we listen better. We understand each other more completely. Every step we take makes that culture of trust stronger. And that’s how we build peace. We won’t turn back now.

Opinion | Martin J. Walsh and Jeffrey L. Brown

Martin J. Walsh is the Mayor of Boston. The Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown is associate pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury.

Read the original Op-Ed in the Boston Globe here.