Latinos report fewer sex crimes amid immigration fears

Michael Balsamo
Associated Press

Los Angeles — The police chief of Los Angeles, a city that is half Latino, found himself in the middle of the national immigration debate on Wednesday after saying there’s a correlation between the Trump administration’s call for stiffer immigration policies and a drop in the number of Hispanics reporting sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“Imagine your sister, your mother, not reporting a sexual assault for fear that their family will be torn apart,” Police Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday.

Since the beginning of this year, sexual assaults reported by Latinos in Los Angeles have dropped 25 percent, and domestic violence reports by Latinos have decreased by 10 percent compared to the same period last year.

Crime statistics show there were 164 sexual assaults reported by Latinos in the first two months of 2016, compared to 123 in the first two months of 2017. There was also a decrease of 118 reports of domestic violence during the same periods among Latinos.

Beck said there was a “strong correlation” between the timing of the decreased reporting and fears about President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

However, Jessica Vaughan of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which lobbies for less immigration to the U.S., said it is “extremely speculative” to draw a connection between the drop in crime reporting and fears regarding accelerated efforts to round up and deport immigrants. She questioned Beck’s reasoning for announcing the figures.

“This seems to be somehow politically motivated to try to get people to think increased enforcement is causing problems in the community,” Vaughan said. “I think it is really a stretch to connect this decline with perceptions of increased immigration enforcement.”

Immigrant advocates counter that the unease of those living in the U.S. illegally is forcing victims of violent crimes to fear that any interaction with police could cause them or their loved ones to be deported.

“We are seeing immigrant families potentially being so afraid of the ultimate punishment, which deportation represents, that they may forego their chances of justice,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, of the immigrant advocacy group CHIRLA. “That’s just horrible and unthinkable.”

In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said gang members have also been preying on people living in the country illegally and telling them they would be deported if they report crimes to police.

Beck, a native of the Los Angeles area whose father was a deputy police chief, has repeatedly reiterated that the Police Department will not act as de-facto immigration agents.