Immigrants Are Often Afraid of Police - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

04/17/06 - Nacogdoches

Immigrants Are Often Afraid of Police

by Donna McCollum

Martha Rico manages a store that carries mostly Mexican products. It's equipped with surveillance and an alarm system that alerts police. Rico said, "I've been here in Nacogdoches for five years and we own the store and every time the alarm goes off they are here."

Rico trusts the local police, but she knows immigrants who would never call police no matter how badly they're needed. "We do have a lot of Hispanic people who are afraid of police officers. I do not know why. Maybe it's because they just came here." They fear primarily deportation. Rico is in the U.S. legally and isn't concerned with INS. Neither is Nacogdoches Police Chief Jim Sevy. "We are not border patrol agents. We're not INS agents and we're not there to enforce the federal immigration laws. We're there to serve the needs of the people in our community," said Sevy.

The chief says he wants to involve immigrants in police programs. He's including them in an upcoming survey. "Part of that survey is specifically directed toward Mexican American citizens of our community. When I say citizens, I'm not talking about their immigration status. I'm talking about their residency," said the chief. Fear of police and deportation makes illegal immigrants easy targets for criminals. That's prompting police departments nationwide to try outreach programs to build trust with residents. Several are being tried out in Texas.

The employees at Tienda La Raza are documented and never hesitate to call police. They also tell the people who are undocumented that they should never be afraid to call for help. Rico says, "Don't be afraid to call 911. They are here to help us. They're here to help all type of people."

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