Undocumented Immigrants and Minor Crimes

If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a minor crime, he or she could potentially face dramatic and highly adverse consequences. The definition of a minor crime can vary based on jurisdiction and circumstance, but it could include things such as petty theft, traffic violations, littering, loitering, riding LA metro transportation without paying the fare and even jaywalking. These crimes all carry their own minor punishment, but for undocumented immigrants who have been detained, it could mean far more harsh penalties. Indeed, there is a possibility that an undocumented immigrant could be transferred to federal immigration enforcement authorities. If this happens, severe repercussions could follow, including immediate detention and even deportation.

Understanding the Political Debate Over Undocumented Immigrants and Minor Crimes

Whether or not local law enforcement agencies should transfer individuals to immigration authorities based on a minor crime is an important and highly contentious political issue. Related to this debate is that fact that many local jurisdictions classify themselves as  ‘sanctuary cities’. The precise meaning of a sanctuary city can vary based on the specific location in question. However, generally, it means that these jurisdictions have decided that their local law enforcement agencies will not take action against an individual simply because of his or her undocumented immigration status. This means that an undocumented immigrant detained for a minor crime in one of these localities may not be asked their immigration status at all. Or, alternatively, the local law enforcement agency may choose not to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials.

Sanctuary Cities are Threatened

There are many sanctuary cities in California, including several in Los Angeles County. However, with the election of now President-Elect Donald Trump, serious questions have arisen about the future viability of sanctuary cities. Trump has pledged to end federal funding for sanctuary cities. If he follows through on this pledge, major legal battles are sure to follow, but there is no doubt that President-Elect Trump will have some power to try to force local leaders to bend to his will on this issue. Though, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has held strong so far. The mayor has promised that the city of Los Angeles will retain its sanctuary status. It is clear that this is going to be a key issue going forward. Los Angeles County residents need to educate themselves on this issue so that they are prepared to get involved in the political process and make their voices heard by local and federal officials.

The Debate: Should Undocumented Immigrants Be Transferred to Federal Immigration Officials Because of an Arrest for a Minor Crime?

The Argument in Favor of Transferring Undocumented Immigrants to Federal Authorities

Those in favor of allowing or encouraging local law enforcement agencies to transfer undocumented immigrants to federal authorities generally argue that this needs to be done to protect the public safety. Indeed, President-Elect Donald Trump has himself made this very argument. The argument relies entirely on the assumption that undocumented immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. However, the evidence proves that this assumption is completely false. Studies produced and referenced by the American Immigration Council, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and the Washington Post have all reached the same conclusion: Immigrants commit crimes at significantly lower rate than do native born citizens. The evidence shows that:

  • Immigration levels have increased at the same time that America’s crime rate has dropped;
  • Immigrants are less likely to be in jail than are native born residents; and
  • Immigrants are less likely to engage in criminal behavior than are native born residents.

The Argument Against Transferring Undocumented Immigrants to Federal Authorities

Those opposed to allowing local law enforcement agencies to transfer undocumented individuals to federal agents based on minor crimes raise several different points. More specifically, their arguments include:

  • The advancement of public safety: By avoiding transfer of most undocumented immigrants, federal officials can deal with the very small number of immigrants who actually present a real safety threat.
  • Allowing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows: This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that it also helps to enhance public safety. By allowing undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows without worrying about imminent transfer to federal officials, undocumented immigrants can work with local law enforcement to help the community.
  • Support for the economy: Undocumented immigrants help make the economy work. This especially true in Los Angeles County and throughout Southern California, where many work in a number of industries, including the entertainment industry.

Are You Moving to L.A.? Do You Need Immigration Help?

Please reach out to the Law Offices of Joshua L. Goldstein today. Our Los Angeles immigration lawyers have extensive experience protecting the rights of documented and undocumented immigrants throughout our community. We represent immigrants in Los Angeles and in the surrounding communities, including Pasadena, Cerritos, Santa Monica, Torrance and Monterey Park.