Newark murder probe sparks debate over immigration and policing

10 years ago

As news stories revealed that a key suspect in the brutal shootings of four Newark, NJ college students was an illegal immigrant out on bail for other serious crimes, some critics were quick to blame the crime on lax immigration enforcement. Newark city councilman Ron Rice announced that he would introduce a resolution requiring city police to tell federal authorities when they arrest someone whose immigration status is uncertain.

Currently, Newark officials say they only notify federal authorities after someone has been convicted of a crime. Part of the reason they say, is that they don't want to see an illegal immigrant suspect deported before standing trial. Never mind that, James Harvey, father of victim Dashon Harvey told reporters::"He's got child abuse charges. He's got a weapon. It's an outrage to the justice system and the community that he's out."

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine visited Natasha Aeriel, the lone survivor of the shootings today. She is recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head. Aeriel has been cooperating with police, and is under heavy guard. Meanwhile, critics of Newark Mayor Cory Booker have a recall effort under way.

To a lot of people for whom the merits of Rice's proposal are obvious. Tammy Bruce echoed many other bloggers when she said:

"The hunt continues as Newark finds out what happens to your town when you make it a 'Sanctuary City' for illegal aliens, establishing a haven for the criminal and the depraved."

CNN anchor Lou Dobbs applauded Rice and excoriated New Jersey lofficials:

It's outrageous that we have -- from the Bush administration down to the local level in a city like Newark, New Jersey -- arrogance among officials that they can choose, pick and choose which laws they will enforce, disregard federal laws. Those sanctuary cities, we should point out, ..., are in absolute contravention of federal law."

The latest suspect who is the announced object of the current police manhunt, Rodolfo Godinez had permanent resident status when he was indicted for armed robbery in 2003. He has been a fugitive since failing to show up for a hearing in July, 2003 and police stopped looking for him in 2005. A police official questioned about Godinez told reporters that Newark has 16,000 people with open warrants and fewer than two dozen officers to track them down.

Bruce and other critics of the so-called "sanctuary city" policy left me wondering, "What's a sanctuary city, and why would a municipality choose to be one?" I found something of an explanation in this 2006 post from Polimom about the debate over such policies in Houston, Texas. Apparently, there, one concern is that if police could open themselves up to charges of racial profiling, and that community distrust would make it harder for them to do an already-difficult job:

"...Houston has a very large Hispanic population, and Polimom's sure nobody thinks they're all here illegally. Just how, then, would one determine whether an individual is or is not in the country legally? Will an accent be enough probable cause to hold someone until a determination is made? We already know that documents can be - and are - forged. The logical conclusion is that all documents must therefore be suspect.

"This is a community relations nightmare, folks, and while I agree that states and localities should be sharing the burdens of illegal immigration enforcement, the Houston Police Department -- already understaffed -- has its hands full already with the rising crime rate in the city."

Polimom's mention of Houston's overtaxed police force took me back to Newark, where
Donna at The Daily Newarker applauds Mayor Cory Booker's new plan to put surveillance cameras in high-crime sections of the city. But she opines that it would be better to find money to put more cops on the beat:

"[N]othing is better for crime fighting than regular foot patrols by officers who are familiar with their assigned neighborhoods and its residents. Sophisticated technology is probably great for finding the bad guys after the crime happens, but machines lack the instincts needed to know when something is not right, which is why the neighborhood patrols make better deterrents to crime. To that end, the city ought to beef up its community policing initiative and if needed, press the state and federal government for funds to train and equip officers for that force. Anyone who has heard the mayor speak knows his fondness for folk wisdom and quotes, so here’s a familiar one for the effort to ‘clean up’ crime: 'A new broom gets more dirt, but the old broom knows the corners!'

Donna also mentions that the Newark Community Foundation is soliciting donations for the new video surveillance technology, as well as for the families of the victims of the August 4 shootings. Donations can be made online or by mail at:

Newark Community Foundation
744 Broad Street, Suite 1705
Newark , NJ 07012

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