The Impact of Stop & Frisk on Undocumented Residents

Stop and frisk updateThe phrase “illegal alien” is a favorite of newscasters and journalists, but in hard legalese, no such phrase exists. What “illegal alien” refers to, legally speaking, is something called an “undocumented immigrant,” or “undocumented resident.” An undocumented resident is essentially someone who was born in a country that isn’t the United States, and is living in the United States illegally, without the proper “documents” (like a green card). The DHS (Department of Homeland Security) estimates that there are somewhere between 11 and 12 million undocumented residents currently living in the United States.

For most born citizens or legal immigrants, a run-in with the lately-controversial stop-and-frisk program popularized by the NYPD amounts to little more than an irritating hassle. But for an undocumented resident, stop-and-frisk programs – which, by the way, are not strictly limited to the Big Apple – can have devastating consequences.

The SAFE Act

The SAFE in SAFE Act stands for “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement.” Who introduced it? South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy. More importantly, what does the SAFE Act do? Well, it “strengthens and fortifies enforcement” – specifically, the enforcement of legal action against undocumented immigrants, who effectively all become criminals within the parameters of SAFE. SAFE aims to give more power to law enforcement authorities to arrest immigrants, or even have them deported. In the words of Trey Gowdy, SAFE will tackle problems with the present state of illegal immigration “step-by-step and increment-by-increment.”

The SAFE Act is not one which especially excels at “reaching across the aisle.” Some Congressional Democrats have voiced their concerns. They fear that the SAFE Act will logically have to siphon police officers away from handling more pressing crimes, like rape, assault, and murder, and that undocumented residents will shy away from testifying in court or even reporting themselves as crime victims due to fear of deportation.

Politicians aren’t the only ones with opinions about SAFE. Chris Burbank, who has been serving as the Salt Lake City Chief of Police since 2006, fears that SAFE is a recipe for racial profiling disaster. After all, Caucasians don’t typically “look” foreign – nor, by extension, do they look like immigrants. Who does “look like” they could be immigrants? Muslims and Hispanics – two ethnic groups which have long struggled with racial persecution throughout the United States (the former all the more in the wake of 9/11, unfortunately). As Burbank told the Salt Lake Tribune, “There is no way we can do immigration enforcement without interjecting bias. No one is going to ask me as a white male in Salt Lake City, ‘Am I documented, and do I have the proper paperwork to show it?’ But individuals who encounter anyone of color who looks differently, who acts or speaks differently, is going to be asked.” He goes on to pose a thought-provoking rhetorical question, asking, “Why would I, as a police chief, ever want to alienate such a large segment of my society by engaging in civil enforcement actions that interject bias into our business?”

It’s a good question.



About the Author: Paul Young is the Managing Partner of Young Klein & Associates, a Bucks County, PA criminal defense law firm