To the Editor:
On July 1, 2015, Kathryn Steinle was shot in broad daylight in San Francisco. She later died. Since the alleged perpetrator of this heinous crime is an undocumented immigrant, debate has flown around the country challenging the wisdom of municipalities, like San Francisco, which adopt policies that embrace immigrant members of their communities regardless of their immigration status. Although the scope of these policies varies, towns that take inclusive steps are often called “sanctuary cities.” While not calling itself a sanctuary city, Princeton has made crucial strides to build a welcoming community for our town’s immigrant population, and we appreciate and respect the contributions that immigrants, both documented and not, make — as they have throughout our history.
In response to the thoughtful pro and con letters addressing this issue that appear in The Town Topics’ July 29, 2015 issue, it’s important to keep in mind several points.
1) Princeton does not have a policy that provides a safe-haven for criminals.
2) Unlike the federal government’s immigration enforcement agencies, Princeton’s local police, and the municipal government in general, is charged with ensuring the safety and welfare of all individuals living or spending time in our town. The primary mission of federal immigration enforcement officers is not public safety, but enforcement of immigration laws. In keeping with this framework, federal immigration agencies are funded to enforce immigration laws. Princeton police are funded to keep the community safe.
3) While the murder in San Francisco raises understandable concern, Princeton’s continuing challenge has been to gain the trust and cooperation of undocumented immigrant victims and witnesses of crimes, not with a rash of undocumented perpetrators. Because immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, fear the possibility of immigration consequences, they do not report crimes, even when they are victims. Several of us, who work with immigrants, have been called upon by the police to encourage immigrants to help in the investigation of crimes that include victims within and beyond the immigrant community. The lack of trust within immigrant communities, amplified by immigration officers presenting themselves as public safety officials (even wearing clothing identifying themselves as “police”), undermines public safety not just for immigrants, but for the entire community.
To the benefit of all Princeton residents and those who value what our town has to offer, Princeton’s policy embracing immigrants strengthens public safety, not weakens it.
Mayor of Princeton
Chair, Princeton Human Services Commission (PHSC)
Chair, Immigration Committee, PHSC
Chair of the Board of Trustees, Latin American
Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF)
Executive Director, LALDEF
Ryan Stark Lilienthal