Immigrant targeting isn’t just happening in New Jersey, where a Guatemalan native was recently beat to death during a robbery, according to an article in NJ.com, and it is something that puts the safety of all our communities—not just those of immigrants—at risk across the nation. Immigration lawyers representing clients know that within the immigration community, harassment, threats, and violence is considered a part of life in most places in America, even when, ironically, those are the conditions many flee from in their homelands.
In New Jersey, for example, the community leaders came together last month for a collaborative meeting to discuss the crimes targeted toward Latino immigrants in Trenton, a trend that many immigration lawyers say is occurring nationwide. Many immigrants are pressed into fear and made more vulnerable because of it, and problems in Trenton are exemplary of this situation.
Violent robberies of cash-carrying Latino immigrants occur throughout the city, as many immigrants are unaware that individuals in the city can open a bank account without a Social Security number. Believing they are without access to the security of a financial institution, individuals carry large amounts of cash, and because they are not able to obtain driver’s licenses, walk across the city, becoming easy targets for violent robberies, such as the one resulting in the 18 year old’s death last month. Others sell “fake driver’s licenses and insurance documents to immigrants, who show them unknowingly to police and get locked up for fourth-degree crimes and second-degree felonies,” describes the Mercer County First Assistant Prosecutor, a situation not localized to New Jersey, immigration lawyers representing clients all over the country report. Scammers setting themselves up to give false legal advice under the designation of notarios are type of profiteers who prey on the discrepancies in cultural meanings of terminology, and hawkers who charge thousands of dollars for illicit forms and empty promises of legal benefits aren’t uncommon.
In Trenton, New Jersey, Police Director Ralph Rivera Jr. is trying to get the word out to the community that undocumented immigrants won’t be punished for reporting crimes, and that law enforcement should not be checking the status of crime victims according to a state Attorney General’s order from 2007. Similar problems are erupting in places like Arizona, immigration lawyers and advocate groups say, where victims and witnesses are cowed into a silence about violent crimes that could endanger the entire community. In fact, Trenton advocates note that police can utilize the “U” visa—available for non-citizens who have suffered serious trauma and agree to help law enforcement—as a tool they can use to coax crime victims to come forward. But these visas aren’t without their own issues: many communities are unfamiliar with “U” visas, others are fraught with corruption, and like the Police Director of Trenton has made clear, they are bound up in red tape and long waits. But they are something.
Mitigating crime in immigrant communities is not just a special interest issue or threat confined to the gates of the ghetto—while violence is being perpetrated, individuals are becoming victims, and our communities are at risk.