NEAR WEST SIDE — A new report shows that roughly 4 in 10 Cook County Latinos — including legal residents — fear telling police about crimes because they think they will be questioned about their immigration status or the status of people they know.
This reluctance to speak up makes crimes harder to solve, argues University of Illinois at Chicago professor Nik Theodore, the author of the study [PDF].
Theodore examined how Latinos interact with police in counties around Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago in light of local law enforcement's increasing involvement in immigration enforcement. Nationally, some 2,000 Latinos were polled on a variety of questions.
On a national scale, these Latinos "fear getting caught in the web of immigration enforcement themselves or bringing unwanted attention to their family or friends," Theodore writes in the report, "Insecure Communities."
The report does not specifically compare American-born Cook County Latinos to undocumented residents, but the national numbers indicate that even 28 percent of Latinos born in the U.S. say they are less likely to contact police because of fears of being questioned about immigration status.
In Cook County, fear of immigration status questions resulted in some 39 percent of local Latinos surveyed saying they are less likely to contact police when they have been victims of crimes.
Additionally, some 42 percent of Cook County Hispanics queried said they are less likely to volunteer information about crimes they know about.
In questions about trust of the police, 33 percent of Cook County Latino respondents agreed "I have begun to feel like I am under more suspicion" since local law enforcement has become involved in immigration enforcement.
And about 6 in 10 believe that police stop Hispanics on the streets of their city "without good reason or cause."
According to the U.S. Census, about a quarter of the county's population of 5.2 million residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
PolicyLink, which describes itself as a "national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity," and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sponsored the study.
PolicyLink said that during the last five years, U.S. Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division has "dramatically increased detentions and deportations by enlisting state and local law enforcement officials in immigration enforcement."
One problem with that, the group says, is that "Local police rely on community relationships to solve and prevent crimes."
"When police officers take on the role of immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime are deterred from contacting police for fear of deportation," PolicyLink said.
NumbersUSA, a group that advocates lower levels of legal and illegal immigration, supports using local police, saying the number of illegal immigrants far outnumber federal agents assigned to track them.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. has deported a record number of people: about 410,000 in fiscal year 2012. That's a 40 percent increase from the number of people deported in fiscal 2007.