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Sunday September 22nd 2019

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That's what she said

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Making Boulder County a Better Place


By

Photo by InsideMyShell

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass, 1886

A Campaign of Education and Awareness

One hundred and twenty-six years since these words were uttered, we are still plagued with inequality and injustice. Race, socioeconomic rank, and immigration status are how people can be exploited and denied equal treatment. Immigrants are being sold fake driver’s licenses or extorted after being rear-ended; still others are falling victims to predatory lending. These crimes go largely unreported for the same reason they are committed: the victims’ fear of deportation and a distrust of authorities.

The Boulder County District Attorney, Stan Garnett, has taken note of this problem and has launched a campaign to reduce the number of these crimes and increase their prosecution rate. He intends to go after perpetrators regardless of whether the victims are documented or undocumented.

The Challenges

Getting people to report crimes that have been committed against them sounds like a no-brainer. However, when it comes to immigrants, reporting of these crimes slams up against the very reasons they are committed in the first place.

The fear of deportation is justified and founded in a grim reality. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, since President Obama took office, deportations have increased to record levels. The 400,000 deportations per year represent a 30% increase over the number deported annually during the second Bush term. One out of every four Latinos, for example, says they know someone who has been deported or detained by the federal government in the past year. The Pew Hispanic Center also estimates that Hispanics make up 81% of our country’s unauthorized immigrants (in Boulder County most immigrants are Latino and represent 14% of the general population). Yet in 2010, people of Hispanic origin accounted for 97% of all deportees.

Deportation is a reality. Its new found prevalence is breeding crimes against immigrants and providing cover for and emboldening those who commit them.

Although the enforcement of immigration laws is the purview of the federal government, recent laws such as Alabama’s HB 56, Arizona’s SB 1070 , Georgia’s HB 87, Utah’s HB 497, South Carolina’s SB 20 and Indiana’s SB 590 have opened the door to more state and local intervention into the enforcement of federal laws. These laws have been given a lot of media coverage and word spreads fast in immigrant communities.

With all this in mind, reporting a crime becomes a frightening proposition not just if you are unsure of your immigration status but also because laws such as these open the door to racial profiling.

It is against this backdrop that the District Attorney’s office is hoping to reduce the number of these opportunistic crimes.

Outreach

How then can the District Attorney’s office overcome these palpable barriers of fear and distrust? Outreach?

The word “outreach” exists in Spanish only in abstract approximation resulting from translation of the word from English. The word is a construct of an American society struggling to regain its sense of community. Hispanic cultures, however, immigrant or otherwise, maintain strong family and community bonds. This cultural difference can be leveraged so that through slow, careful and authentic formation of relationships and familiarity, the obstacles of fear and distrust can begin to be dismantled. It takes more than outreach, it takes time, commitment and resources.

Strategies

Jesse Rodriguez, owner of La Ley radio station in Longmont once said to me “My people don’t read, they get their information by listening.” Spoken like a true radio man, but a study out of Oregon State University supports his view. In Hispanic cultures, the more trusted and familiar the source, the more likely what is heard will precipitate action.

The study outlines several strategies for success in reaching Hispanics, which, as stated earlier, make up the vast majority of the immigrant community in Boulder County. Here’s the list:

  • Be seen in the community
  • Participate in events
  • Spend time learning about the community and meeting individuals within
  • Understand and respect cultural differences and context
  • Enlist the support of respected elders, community leaders and organizations
  • Commit the time, patience and resources to build relationships

There is an appreciation among some community leaders that Mr. Garnett and his staff are adhering to and having success with most of these strategies and that victims are working with trusted individuals within the community to report crimes. Indicators of the campaign’s progress, however, need to be tracked, measured and evaluated. Some of these strategies require the test of time. It is too soon to declare the program an overwhelming success.

Jane Walsh, the Deputy District Attorney focusing on this project, says that since the launch of this education and awareness campaign almost five months ago, their office has indeed seen an increase in the reporting of such crimes. Garnett’s office, she says, has even been receiving calls from outside of Boulder County. Statistics are not yet available. According to Walsh, though, this is a long term project that will build the required relationships and trust to eventually increase reporting of these crimes and reduce their occurrence.

Conclusion

This campaign, it seems, takes Frederick Douglass’s statement to heart by working to bring justice and awareness to a class of people whose status makes them targets for crimes. But, it is also about engaging the immigrant community as part of our community. In so doing, we become a better place for all.

A recent study conducted by the Knight Foundation found that Boulder “struggles most with being a place where people care about each other” and that we are not very open when it comes to immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities. This lack of openness, it goes on to say, should be prioritized by our leadership.

If Mr. Garnett’s office gives this project the long term priority, commitment and resources that have so far been committed, his office could build the foundation to a more open and caring community. In time, the ultimate measure of success would be that whenever the District Attorney’s name comes up among a group of immigrants, you would hear “El Garnett es el que te ayuda con la ley.”

Thanks to Stan Garnett, Cindy Taylor and Jane Walsh for taking the time to meet.  Also, many thanks to members of the St. Vrain Valley Latino Coalition for providing feedback. For more information on this campaign, contact Jane Walsh (jwalsh@bouldercounty.org), Deputy District Attorney.

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