Community leaders fear immigrants are not calling for help when they need it

In this March 30, 2012, file photo, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent waits with other agents outside of the home of a suspect before dawn as part of a nationwide immigration sweep in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this March 30, 2012, file photo, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent waits with other agents outside of the home of a suspect before dawn as part of a nationwide immigration sweep in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members and community leaders say they’re concerned the current climate surrounding immigration is making the community less safe.

They worry people who are in the U.S. illegally may not be calling police for help because they’re afraid Immigration and Customs Enforcement could get involved in the process.

One local non-profit says they are seeing a decrease in calls for help because of fear, but Austin police say they aren’t worried because their numbers reflects something else.

“We pulled up through most of March for both years 2016 to 2017 so that we can make sure we are really keeping the comparison similar,” Assistant Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon says. “We found was that there was no significant difference year to year.”

Crime stats for January 1 – March 23 for 2016 & 2017; victims were Hispanic adult(s)

All Crimes 5206 (2016) 4933 (2017)
Family Violence 614 (2016) 590 (2017)
Sexual Assaults 25 (2016) 13 (2017)
Sexual Assault of Child 28 (2016) 20 (2017)
Rape 16 (2016) 19 (2017)

The numbers show for all crimes there was about a 5.55 percent decrease from last year. Austin police credit that to their strong relationship with the community.

“We are really victim-centric. As we investigate we work really closely with the victim services unit to offer any kind of help that we can and to keep them informed throughout the process,” Assistant Chief Chacon said. “There has not been a sense of fear, or at least it has not been verbalized us that they’re worried.”

Those living in the community say they they’ve seen a lot of fear.

“Here on North Lamar and Rundberg, it’s a lot of Hispanics, a lot of different races that live here, so that really, really affected us,” Kristina Rosas, who runs La Casa del Sabor taco truck. She recently witnessed an accident and said fear of the police almost made things worse.

“The guy was just basically scared, like come on don’t call the police because the police are involved with immigration and ICE is going to come out here and they’re going to take me, my babies, my son I mean, they’re really scared because they think the police here in our community is connected with ICE,” Rosas says.

As a business owner, she trusts the police, but says convincing her community is difficult.

“I try to explain it to them in reasonable words and tell them, ‘don’t be afraid, the police are not going to do anything to you, so just speak up, say the truth, don’t lie and you won’t get into any trouble,” Rosas said.

It’s confusions about who has what power that is also affecting non-profits like SAFE who dedicates their resources to people who experience domestic and sexual violence.

“In February 2016, we saw about 90 callers who were Spanish-preferred speaking and in February 2017 we saw about 67 callers who were Spanish-preferred speaking,” Victoria Berryhill, communications coordinator for SAFE says. “In relation with how many calls we’re getting, that is about a 28 percent decrease and that’s concerning to us because we know that our community is scared.”

Berryhill says their numbers are based on Spanish speakers, so the numbers could be higher or lower given many Spanish speakers aren’t worried about their immigration status, but confirm things have changed.

“We’re seeing folks call who are concerned about immigration for themselves, but then also what’s going to happen if my partner is undocumented and he’s the father of our children,” Berryhill says. She explains some of their clients are even drafting emergency plans in case they did get deported.

“A parent child specialist was approached the other day and asked if the family was deported if she would take the children,” Berryhill said. “Of course we can’t do that, but that’s demonstrating how actively people are planning for this.”

SAFE representatives say they will never ask for anyone’s immigration status.

“It’s very important for us to let the community know that we are not going to ask about documentation status, that’s not what we’re there for, we are there to help our community get out of abusive and dangerous situations,” Berryhill said.

If you need help, or someone who does, you can call SAFE’s 24 hour hotline at 512-267-SAFE (7233)

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