Immigrants are afraid of President Trump's crackdown, making it harder to prosecute crimes, ACLU report says

Key Points
  • Under the Trump administration, crimes have become tougher to prosecute because of increased fears in the immigrant community, a new ACLU report concludes.
  • Since Trump entered office, "domestic violence is now underreported and harder to investigate and/or prosecute," according to the report.
  • The report said immigrants are fearful of immigration consequences or deportation, including some who refuse to enter courthouses.
  • Another consequence of the fear is human trafficking and sexual assault cases "are now harder to investigate."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officers arrest an undocumented Mexican immigrant during a raid in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn on April 11, 2018 in New York City.
Getty Images

Under the President Donald Trump, some crimes, such as domestic violence, have become tougher to prosecute because of increased fears on the part of immigrants, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report said immigrants are fearful of "immigration consequences," including the possibility of deportation, so they are not helping police. Also, some immigrants who are crime victims are staying away from courthouses where they could testify because they fear arrest by immigration authorities.

The findings are based on survey responses from 232 law enforcement officers in 24 states as well as hundreds of others across all 50 states, including judges, prosecutors, survivor advocates and legal service providers.

"Prosecutors surveyed stated that in prior years, as cooperation between prosecutors and immigrant communities increased, survivors of crime were increasingly willing to come forward and assist law enforcement in prosecuting cases," the ACLU report said. "However, over the past year, many categories of crimes have become more difficult to prosecute as a result of an increase in fear of immigration consequences."

The ACLU study found that 82 percent of prosecutors reported that since President Donald Trump got into the White House, "domestic violence is now underreported and harder to investigate and/or prosecute."

Similarly, 70 percent of prosecutors reported the same was true for sexual assault, and 55 percent indicated "the same difficulties for human trafficking and 48 percent for child abuse."

The U.S. Department of Justice declined comment for this story.

The report — "Freezing Out Justice: How Immigration Arrests at Courthouses Are Undermining the Justice System" — found 67 percent of police officers surveyed reported that immigrants' fear affected their ability to protect survivors of crime. Sixty-four percent indicated there was "an adverse impact on officer safety."

'Crimes can escalate'

The report comes amid controversy over California's so-called sanctuary law, or state Senate Bill 54. The Trump administration is suing the state over the legislation, which bars state and local law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of people during routine interactions or participating in federal enforcement actions.

The ACLU said roughly one out of every five police officers who participated in the survey indicated "immigrants were less likely in 2017 than in 2016 to be willing to make police reports." A similar number of police also said immigrants who were crime survivors didn't want to participate in investigations at crime scenes when police arrived.

According to the report, more than 50 percent of police officers surveyed said domestic violence, human trafficking as well as sexual assault cases "are now harder to investigate."

"For years, many police chiefs have expressed concern about immigrants being afraid to report crimes if they see the local police as de facto immigration agents," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national organization of police executives. "When community members are afraid to call the police, crimes can escalate."

Wexler, whose group wasn't directly involved in the ACLU study, added: "Today's unreported domestic violence case may become tomorrow's homicide. In some cities, police have seen reductions in reporting of crimes in immigrant communities, so they are redoubling their efforts to conduct outreach to these groups, emphasizing the importance of reporting crimes and bringing offenders to justice."

Fear at the courthouse

The report also cited immigrant crime survivors' fear of going to court. It said 54 percent of judges who participated in the survey revealed they had cases in courtrooms that had been interrupted due to immigrants avoiding court for this very reason.

"Courthouse arrests threaten immigrants' constitutional rights and make our communities less safe," said Sarah Mehta, human rights researcher at the ACLU and author of the report, which was conducted jointly with the National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project. "When members of our community are afraid to call for help, go to court, and report crimes to the police, public safety suffers."

The ACLU report claims that since President Trump took office, there's been a "dramatically expanded" presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Customs and Border Protection officers at courthouses across the nation. The report also said local police can be confused with ICE officers who are in plainclothes in some courthouses, making it difficult for people to identify the immigration agents.

The report also cited specific incidents involving ICE, including the case of 13 women in Denver not pursuing domestic violence claims after the release of a videotape showing "ICE waiting in a courthouse hallway to make an arrest." ACLU also said ICE made an arrest in El Paso County, Texas, of "an undocumented transgender woman as she sought a protective order against her abusive boyfriend."

In response, an ICE representative, who declined to be named, told CNBC the agency "recognizes the importance for crime victims and witnesses to come forward. The agency works closely with state and local law enforcement to see that foreign nationals who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking crimes are informed about the availability of special visas to enable them to remain in the U.S."

The ICE representative also said it weighs whether an individual "is the immediate victim or witness to a significant crime" when considering how to proceed on cases.

"The inference that the agency's execution of its mission is undermining public safety is reckless and inaccurate," the ICE representative added. "ICE and all law enforcement agencies have the primary goal of protecting the public by combating crime."