The Latino Student Organization (LSO) held a speaker event Wednesday to address the issue of illegal immigration from a criminal justice standpoint.
The event took place as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month. LSO President Laura Oropeza said that the goal of this event was to highlight an issue in current events.
Stan Hall, director of the Victim Witness Program in the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s office, spoke at the event and said that illegal immigration can be discussed through various viewpoints.
The social perspective is the most common type of discussion concerning illegal immigration, and political conversation comes in second, he said.
“No matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat or libertarian, you have a view on illegal immigration,” Hall said. “You can’t come to a national agenda, though, because the Democratic view is 180 degrees from the Republican view. When you have such a broad spectrum, there is no give-and-take.”
The last category, Hall said, lies with law enforcement.
“The question is, does it have a place in the immigration issue?” he asked. “Law enforcement is here for one goal: to protect and serve and to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.”
Hall said that until the mid-’90s, the law enforcement division avoided the immigration issue. Because illegal immigration is a felony offense, however, he said that there was public, political and social pressure, particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks, for law enforcement to take part in the issue.
Pressure was even put on individual officers, Hall said.
He said that he was standing in line for coffee at a local QuikTrip when a lady in line behind him became angry that she had seen him buying coffee every day for the past two weeks and accused him of not doing his job.
“She asked me, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything about all the illegal immigrants in here?’” Hall said. “I told her, ‘I don’t know that they’re illegal and even if I did, I don’t have the authority to do anything about it.’”
That has changed with Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to Hall.
The program, he said, gives designated law enforcement officers in states and counties that accept the agreement the means to address illegal immigration issues.
Passed in 1996, 287(g) is a response to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).
“Now, some police officers have the same authority and executive powers of investigation and arrest on an illegal immigration issue as a federal officer does,” Hall said.
In talking about illegal immigration, Hall said that it is important not to confuse the topic with legal immigration because one goes against the law while the other is within the law.
“We blend immigration and illegal immigration in the same topic, and that’s where we get problems,” he said.
Hall said that based on his experience in law enforcement, illegal immigration is a serious issue particularly because of the trends in crime that the country has seen.
He said that in the state of Georgia, there have been 47 homicides since 2009.
Eighty percent of victims and 80 percent of criminals were illegal immigrants in those cases, he added.
Additionally, he said that one-third of the population in the United States’ prison systems consists of illegal immigrants.
This population includes both illegal immigrants who are in jail for offenses unrelated to immigration issues as well as those waiting to be deported.
“Our taxes are providing for their health care, their food, their clothing — and there are people who are here legally who are fighting every day for those necessities,” Hall said.
Hall said that prison systems are now so full that illegal immigrants may not be incarcerated in the future.
One idea being discussed, he said, was the option of keeping illegal immigrants in hotels or vacant beds in nursing homes and monitoring them with ankle bracelets until deportation.
He added that the idea was to treat illegal immigrants as if they were on probation.
Whether or not illegal immigration is a crime is a question to be considered, Hall said.
“What do illegal immigrants come here for? They come here for work,” he said.
He said that a large part of the problem is in the system in the United States.
“You have people who have been trying to apply to come into this country legally for 10 years while others are coming in under the fence every day,” he said.
Many people are cheated by lawyers and choose not to go through the lengthy process that has no guarantees, Hall said, and others are in the United States legally until their licenses expire, at which point they choose to take the risk of getting caught over waiting another 10 years during the reapplication process.
Wherever the blame is placed, Hall said that illegal immigration is a problem in the United States.
“From a criminal justice point of view, illegal immigration has really taken a toll on our country,” Hall said.
Oropeza said that LSO chose to focus on the issue because the organization wanted to provide an event that students would be interested in attending.
LSO has hosted various events with food and dancing for Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, and Oropeza said the group wanted to hold an event with a more educational aspect.
She said she wished that Hall had covered more sides of the issue.
“I wish he would have mentioned that not all illegal immigrants are Hispanic,” Oropeza said.
LSO has worked to break stereotypes in earlier events this month at events such as Beyond Burritos and Tacos last week, where the student group served various types of Hispanic and ethnic foods besides burritos and tacos, Oropeza said.
She said that the goal of these events is to show that there is more to the Hispanic race besides the Mexican population, which she said she feels is what most people primarily assume.
“We wanted to surface stereotypes,” Oropeza said. “Not all of us are construction workers, not all of us are maids and not all of us are here on scholarship just for being Hispanic.”
— Contact Alice Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org