Before city officials rush to sign an alliance with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Danbury would do well to put those plans on ice.Unfortunately, this type of information is falling on the deaf ears of xenophobes who could care less what ICE does, as long as they throw "those illegals" out of Danbury.
On paper, the ACCESS program -- Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security -- appears to be a valuable tool, a means to give local police the power to enforce immigration law.
In truth, it's a dangerous key to the city, a blank check waiting to be cashed without accountability, without warrants.
Just ask David Nyce, mayor of Greenport, N.Y., a town of about 2,500 residents on the eastern end of Long Island.
Two months ago ICE enlisted the help of that area's police department, then roared into town on the premise of making gang-related arrests.
After raiding several homes, ICE arrested 11 undocumented immigrants. Just one of those immigrants was allegedly involved in gang activity. The other 10 had no prior criminal records.
"My experience with ICE was nil," Nyce said Tuesday. "I wasn't informed of the raids before they happened.
"I'm trying very hard to make it clear this is a national issue. Greenport is a very small village. But in the absence of a comprehensive federal policy on immigration, it's left to local municipalities to deal with immigration.
"The police department here has set themselves back by participating in this raid," Nyce went on. "It took a long time for them to get the confidence and cooperation of (the immigrant community)."
By definition, the ACCESS program is flawed.
Just look at the words: Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security. This program has little to do with public safety and everything to do with perpetuating negative stereotypes.
In a 2001 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, researchers concluded that over the last century immigrants have committed a smaller proportion of crimes than the general population -- the U.S. citizens, if you will.
An inventory of America's criminal justice system supports those findings.
Consider: There are 2.2 million in federal or state prisons or local jails. Nine out of 10 of those inmates are U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
In a 2001 report -- the most recent available -- it cost taxpayers about $22,000 per year for each of the 1.5 million inmates residing in state and federal prisons, according to Department of Justice spokesman Stuart Smith. That's $33 billion a year going to house, clothe, feed and supervise inmates, most of whom are not undocumented immigrants.
Just as all U.S. citizens aren't shining examples of impeccable character, most illegal immigrants aren't riffraff without jobs and dreams.
"We find ourselves here because of the failure of the federal government to operate and enforce an appropriate immigration policy," DeStefano said. "By not fixing the system, the problem has gotten so big that it's impossible to deport 13 million to 15 million people. The economy, or even basic American values, will not allow it to happen."
Extending ICE's reach into the community, without regard for probable cause and human dignity, is not the answer.
At best, ICE and the city of Danbury are dangerous bedfellows. At worst, they're a recipe for vigilante enforcement.
Fortunately, the people of Danbury are going to find out soon what happens when a). a mayor LIES to the public and 2). what happens when ICE goes too far.