Ill. Town Uses Police Force to Address Immigration
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Just ahead, our money coach Alvin Hall talks about the distance between living well and living beyond your means. That's next.
But first, we've been following the story about how immigration, both legal and illegal, is playing out around the country. Today we go to Waukegan - I'm sorry, Waukegan, Illinois. On Monday, the town council recommitted to a plan to allow local police to enforce federal immigration laws provided they get federal approval.
The plan has sparked major divisions in the city of about 100,000. It's about half Latino. Joining us to talk about the vote is Ramon Becerra. He is president of the Chicago chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. He joins us from our Chicago bureau. Also with us is Roseanna Pulido, director of the Illinois Minuteman Project and Illinois spokesperson for You Don't Speak for Me, American Hispanics speaking out on illegal immigration. She joins us by phone in Chicago. Welcome to both. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. ROSANNA PULIDO (Director, Illinois Minuteman Project): Thanks so much.
Mr. RAMON BECERRA (President, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Chicago Chapter): Thank you.
MARTIN: Mr. Becerra, let's start. You object so strong to this proposal that your group has launched a boycott, which I want to talk about in a moment. But I first want to ask why. As I understand it, the police are seeking immigration enforcement for people convicted of serious crimes like murder, rape, felonies. Why wouldn't illegal immigrants also want these people out of the community?
Mr. BECERRA: If the police is looking for permission to arrest criminals, this is a camouflage. This is a camouflage to arrest the innocent working men and women, the Latino innocent working men and women in that community. They are responsible to arrest anyone, legal or illegal, right now at this moment that commits a crime. So if they're not doing so, they should be fired. This entire police department should be fired because they're supposed to be doing that now. So if they're camouflaging and looking for permission to arrest criminals, they're not doing their job, they should all be fired.
MARTIN: Hold it, Mr. Becerra. As I understand it, the immigration enforcement action kicks in after a conviction for a serious crime. So I'm asking you what's wrong with that.
Mr. BECERRA: The government under 1996 - Bill Clinton signed a law, the Immigration Reform Act in 1996, that gives the government the power to do exactly that, to deport anybody that's arrested that's not legal or is a legal resident of this country. So that law already exists, the government has that power. Now, this police department has abused and killed people in that community. There's a few cases, there are some cases that have been won by some - just recently, there was a young man that was killed by a police officer. A police officer ran into him and killed him, and this kid won the lawsuit of two and a half million dollars.
MARTIN: So you're worried that that police department is going to abuse their authority?
Mr. BECERRA: Absolutely. They cannot be trusted.
Mr. BECERRA: Their history shows that they cannot be trusted. This is solely initiated on hatred.
Mr. BECERRA: I mean, hatred for this community.
MARTIN: Rosanna Pulido, I wanted to ask you, in other parts of the country, most recently in Prince William County, Virginia, they have been discussing issues like this and asking local police to enforce immigration law. And they're actually setting a much lower standard than here. The police chief there doesn't want it. He says that this will discourage members of the community from helping the police to solve the day-to-day crimes that affect everybody. It will make people more reluctant to come forward to help solve crimes. What do you say to that?
Ms. PULIDO: Well, you know, one of our main objectives here in Illinois is to educate the people about illegal immigration. The police chief there - you know, there's a lot of different options. 287(g) is not the end all, be all. And we live in a day where the grassroots is educating our elected officials. Homeland Security provided a tool that these local police departments have the option to use. But like my friend Sheriff Daniel Beck in Ohio, he chooses not to use it. But he is deporting criminal illegal aliens all the time, and he has unions and businesses working with him. So 287(g) is a great tool…
MARTIN: I'm sorry. Just to clarify, 287(g) is the statute that we're talking about here that would allow the local police in Waukegan to apply for authority to enforce federal immigration law, just to clarify.
Ms. PULIDO: That's correct. And, you know, what I want to say about 287(g) training, it's been around 10 years. It's very, very hugely successful in Alabama and Florida. There are no outstanding abuses of it. And with a great police department like we have in Waukegan, Illinois, I expect them to use it in a responsible manner, which I truly expect they will.
MARTIN: Rosanna, we traditionally think of towns along the border as kind of the battleground for these kinds of issues. Why do you think that Waukegan is addressing this in this way? What's going on?
Ms. PULIDO: Well, again, I would like to educate your audience that I believe Illinois is ground zero when it comes to illegal immigration. While illegal aliens may pass through Arizona and California, they come and settle here. A study just came out May 2007 that the citizens of Illinois paid $3.1 billion a year to educate the children of illegal aliens in this state. So we truly have a problem with illegal immigration here in Illinois…
MARTIN: No, illegal immigrants pay taxes, too.
Ms. PULIDO: Not as much as - well, see, you know, I don't understand the story. They pay taxes but yet they're in the shadows. I'm sorry, those two can't coexist.
MARTIN: Well, if you have a sales tax, anybody who buys a stick of gum pays taxes.
Ms. PULIDO: The amount of…
MARTIN: And there are also people who are paying taxes under false documents, so they're still paying their taxes even though they're not getting the benefit, so.
Ms. PULIDO: Well, it doesn't mean - they take out more out of the system than they put in.
MARTIN: Okay. You're - and you are conceived of that. Because there are other studies that contradict that, but you are convinced that that's the case in Illinois.
Ms. PULIDO: Yeah.
Ms. PULIDO: In Illinois, absolutely.
MARTIN: Mr. Becerra, your group has helped to launch a boycott against businesses that supported this measure that we have been discussing. How is that effort going?
Mr. BECERRA: That is correct. You know, we're - a lot of the community citizens like Mrs. Pulido are really missing the point here and they're targeting the wrong target. The economic refugees from other countries are not the target here. They're forced to come here through this corporate greed. This globalization spread all over the world is causing these economic refugees to relocate here to look for work and feed their children. They're not the target; they're good working men and women. They've come here and helped this economy. They help this country. Immigrants built this country. And so we're missing the point. Well, the target should be those corporations who are spreading this globalization and this greed all over the world.
MARTIN: Well, what do you say to those who argue that this boycott then puts local merchants in the crosshairs, that they're not the ones who are at fault here and so that you're just - you're in fact doing - you're scapegoating local merchants in the same way that you say that others are scapegoating illegal immigrants by making them responsible for policies that they really can't control. What would you say to that?
Mr. BECERRA: Well, we're running a campaign that involves political action and a boycott because we know that everyone listens to money and political actions, especially those people that are elected there in the city council of Waukegan. Boycotting, we're boycotting because we know that they function in money. And we're going to run a political operation to make sure we get rid of those people and put the right people in office. And so what we're doing is we're asking businesses in the city of Waukegan to support the working men and women in their city. And we've only ran this campaign for a week and a half, and the majority of the businesses that we have talked to have agreed that they will support the community. They have put up a sign on their window that says that they're against the 287(g). Just in Grand Avenue alone, about 50, 60 percent. In one - in two days, we were able to pick out 60 percent of the businesses on Grand Avenue. They all agreed with us. The others are - were either not there. The owner wasn't there. But the majority of the businesses are on our side so they're putting up the sign. What that means is that - we're encouraging the community to shop in those businesses that have that - the No 287 sign on their window. It's a poster. It's an orange poster. It's on their window. And so our community - we're encouraging our community to honor those businesses only and don't shop at those businesses that don't have the orange sign.
MARTIN: I see. Rosanna, we're down to our last a minute and a half here, so quickly a couple of questions for you. Are you at all concerned about profiling, the fact that legal immigrants will be subjected to extra scrutiny as a consequence of this extending of sort of immigration authority to local police, given that the city, Waukegan, as I understand it, according to census figures, is about 45 percent Latino now? So the police really have no way of distinguishing between who's legal and illegal. Are you at all concerned about profiling?
Ms. PULIDO: No. I am a woman of Mexican descent and I cannot say that I have had that experience. What I am worried about are police officers like my friend, who is a Hispanic, who's Spanish speaking, and when he goes to write a ticket to another Latino, they say to him, you are a racist. This is just rhetoric. What I see, our police are dealing with an arrogance. These people don't have to follow the law. And so I'm worried about our officers who are on the streets everyday and lives are in danger.
MARTIN: And finally, Roseanna, you - we were talking about the boycott launched by Mr. Bacerra's group. As I understand it, there was a counter effort called the Shop in Waukegan Day. You participated in that. And what was the response to that?
Ms. PULIDO: You know, to tell you the truth, I was not there on Sunday for that. It was brought on by William Gheen from ALIPAC, and I really can't talk about it because I don't have any information on it.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, that's fine. So thanks for speaking with us.
Ms. PULIDO: Thank you.
MARTIN: We're joined by Roseanna Pulido. She is the director of the Illinois Minuteman Project and Illinois spokesperson for You Don't Speak For Me, American Hispanics speaking out on illegal immigration. We were also joined by Ramon Becerra. He is the president of the Chicago chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. He joined us from our Chicago bureau. Thanks to both.
Ms. PULIDO: Thank you.
Mr. BECERRA: Thank you.
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