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Don't make cops squeal on undocumented workers

Cities that took a hands-off approach saw crime drop.

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Imagine living in a state where local cops can stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, and arrest them if they lack proof of citizenship. Last month, Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri signed an executive order directing state police to enforce federal immigration law, which will let them do just that.

The order is designed to relieve a financial burden on Rhode Island's residents. But few reforms could make residents less safe.

From Phoenix, Ariz., to Prince William County, Va., from big-city mayors to small-town councilmen, lawmakers like Governor Carcieri are starting to use local police to root out undocumented residents.

The laws are grounded in a 1996 immigration reform act that lets federal officers train local police to help catch undocumented immigrants.

At first glance, orders like Carcieri's look ideal. The federal government gets help dealing with the 12 million people who are in the country illegally; local police get free training and more authority; and tax-paying citizens dispose of the unauthorized residents straining their budgets. But it's hardly that simple.

To begin, such laws make communities less safe by discouraging immigrants from cooperating with local police. Police depend on residents to report crimes and identify criminals. But when immigrants fear that talking to officers may lead to their deportation, they remain quiet.


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