Immigrants here illegally have long been vulnerable to exploitation because of their fear that reporting to authorities will draw the kind of attention that gets them sent back home. A recent story from Hillsborough County suggests that the villification of immigrants under President Donald Trump is only making the problem worse.
Local immigration attorneys told Tampa Bay Times reporter Tony Marrero they're seeing a spike in the number of clients coming to them for help after paying thousands of dollars in fees to "immigration consultants" who fail to deliver. It's a trend seen nationwide, one advocacy group told Marrero.
It should come as no surprise. The growing desperation of immigrants here illegally is likely to push them in directions that are good for no one.
Throwing money at fraudulent schemers with false promises of legal residency is just one example. Another, immigrant advocates say, may be a reluctance to report any crimes.
Even people who view these immigrants first and foremost as crooks, deserving of no consideration, must acknowledge the widespread threat to all communities when crime goes unsolved because victims remain silent.
Helping people who are here illegally to emerge from the shadows helps all communities — and can only happen once the nation recognizes the threat to our way of life from our failure to take up comprehensive immigration reform.
Meantime, we can at least stop pushing more people further into the shadows.
A bill just introduced by U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador — the Idaho Republican who made headlines for telling a town hall meeting, "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care" — would, in part, allow local jurisdictions to enact their own immigration measures and to enforce federal immigration law.
Immigration is an area where the states should face the world as one, so this is a bad idea — one of many bad ideas that emerge in the absence of a comprehensive approach.
The Davis-Oliver Act, named for two officers killed by an undocumented immigrant, does raise issues the nation's local law enforcement officers are now grappling with on their own — again, in the absence of comprehensive reform — as court after court bars them from doing the work of immigration officers.
More bad policy is behind Trump's creation of a new office in the Justice Department that purports to help victims of crimes committed by immigrants here illegally.
It's not clear whether Trump realized that some of those served by his new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office would be here illegally themselves. What is clear is that this flawed concept has suffered further from flawed execution: The names of some domestic violence victims have appeared on the office's public database.
Of greater concern than these flubs is the message sent by the creation of the office. Crime victims deserve every consideration, and the Justice Department already has an office to help them. To single out the criminal acts of undocumented immigrants is to set apart the whole population as particularly suspect.
In other words, to demonize them.
In fact, as study after study shows, illegal immigrants commit crimes at a rate no higher than those born here. One recent measure: The libertarian Cato Institute reported last month that native-born Americans account for about 82 percent of the U.S. population but 91 percent of the incarcerated population. Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, account for 9 percent of the U.S. population but only 6 percent of those incarcerated, the Cato researchers reported.
Any discussion of crime committed by people in this country illegally requires a historical perspective Trump seems incapable of. To sneak across the border or to overstay a visa is indeed a crime. But the perpetrators have an accomplice in every American who has ever turned a blind eye to enjoy the benefits of their labor — benefits like some of the lowest food prices in the world.
We accomplices do need to take action on immigration — but in ways that treat this population more as partners than villains.