Fear Along the Northern Border: A Conversation with Ada Williams Prince

Ada Williams Prince is the Policy Director of OneAmerica (formerly Hate Free Zone), the largest immigration advocacy organization in Washington State, whose mission is to advance the fundamental principles of democracy and justice through building power in immigrant communities. Prior to coming to OneAmerica, Ada was the Senior Advocacy Officer for the Women’s Refugee Commission, leading advocacy efforts with the United Nations and the NGO community. She holds a B.A. from the School of International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont and an M.A. in Development Studies from Bradford University, England.

The Review’s Jennifer Chan chatted with Ms. Williams Prince earlier this summer to discuss border patrol activity along Washington State’s northern border.

How large is the immigrant population in Washington State compared to the national level and what challenges do they face?

Around 170,000 people in Washington State are eligible to become US citizens, but have not naturalized. Overall, one in every eight people in Washington State is an immigrant. We know nationally, there are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Since most immigrant families are mixed status families – meaning that one or more person in the family is undocumented – we’re talking about undocumented immigrants interwoven into our communities. This is about immigrants who are also US citizens and legal permanent residents; immigrants who work and live here and have done so for the past 20 years. Although we know that hard working immigrants are part of the solution to strengthening our economy and maintaining America’s competitiveness globally, immigrants are being summarily harassed and targeted through the rhetoric of anti-immigrant legislation. This is where America is right now.

How does this harassment of immigrant communities create difficulties for states and local communities?

I think what continues to create the problem is a fusion between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, and local law enforcement. This means that being an immigrant in [Washington] state can result in being arrested for no reason. There is a significant amount of racial profiling that’s done. We saw very heavily after 9/11 the ways in which our country was reducing and removing the rights of all people – civil and human rights of people – by virtue of saying it was a national security threat, using this to justify racial profiling of Muslims and Arab Americans in the US. Now that trend has turned towards a significant emphasis on immigration enforcement. So when you have a situation where these two things are being conflated, it means that people lose their rights. It means that there is a lack of justice, and people don’t have access to justice. People are hiding even those who really don’t need to hide.

What are the benefits of separating federal immigration enforcement from local law enforcement?

Local law enforcement’s job is to build community trust and they have to be on the ground working with the community; their job is not to enforce immigration laws. The more the lines are blurred between the roles of local law enforcement, Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is responsible for immigration enforcement in the interior, the more the result will be that communities will never be able to trust their local law enforcement. It means people will never be able to call 911 and receive services without fear of deportation. For example, in Lynden, Washington, a city near the Canadian border, if somebody calls 911, due to local financial constraints, Border Patrol can and does respond. We’ve seen cases where Border Patrol will show up if someone has an accent, a Latino surname, or doesn’t speak English to help with interpretation.

How can you police a community when the community doesn’t trust you?  A lot of local policing depends on trust. No one will trust the police if they’re going to be deported. This is problematic in situations where local law enforcement expects you to be a witness or help with neighborhood crimes. It ensures that immigrant women are stuck in unsafe and violent situations. It makes it impossible to ensure that people are safe. It makes it impossible for the police to do their job.

Have you seen any support from law enforcement on this issue?

Absolutely. We’ve interviewed local law enforcement and they’ve said to us, “I recognize that the only way I can do my job is through trust and this does not help. I need community trust to do my job.” They have said to us that they don’t want this – some of them, not all of them. They have said how difficult their job is when Border Patrol shows up or when ICE shows up to interpret or ask people about their status. Thankfully, Washington State’s local law enforcement is not allowed to ask about citizenship status.

Do you believe that increasing funding for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will improve border security as some in Congress claim?

We can show that it hasn’t. In fact, the increase in funding has only led to a significant amount of abuse and harassment. And this is not only on the northern border, but also on the southern border. When stories begin to emerge about how Border Patrol agents are bored and don’t have anything to do, then we know money is being wasted.

What can policymakers do to address this problem?

Along the Northern Border, the Border Patrol could institute similar things that ICE has done like prosecutorial discretion, a sensitive locations policy, separate interpretation services apart from using their own agents, and not showing up to 911 calls. Those are just a few of the things that can happen. Also respect for the DOJ guidance on racial profiling.

Another is to push for an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the way that resources are being spent along the northern border. Look into Border Patrol’s policies to see if they are being implemented in a way that protects national security or if it is an over-inflated budget and resources are not being well spent. We need to see if people are being summarily abused due to that, if human rights are being violated in that sense.

Policymakers could push for an audit, push that Border Patrol institute a number of reforms around the recommendations that I mentioned. At every turn policymakers can push for a significant distinction between law enforcement at the local level and federal immigration enforcement.

Feature Photo: cc/ecstaticist

Jennifer Chan
Jennifer Chan is a staff writer for the Review and an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in immigration policy and social justice.

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