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Tragic Death Should Not Define Public Policy

on September 12, 2011

Matthew Denice’s tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver is a crime that should be punished. But it is not the single incident upon which public policy should be based.

Nicolas Guaman’s previous arrest record is cited as “proof” that if Governor Patrick accepted implementation of Secure Communities, a program that requires local police to send fingerprints of those under arrest to Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s central database, Matthew Denice would be alive today because Guaman would have been deported long ago.

In the solitary context of Guaman’s apparent crime, it’s a compelling argument. But the Governors of Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois have refused to participate in the program for numerous reasons, primarily related to concerns about public safety and racial profiling. Even though the explicit goal of Secure Communities is to improve public safety by increasing deportations of undocumented criminals, in practice it can actually decrease public safety by eroding trust between immigrants and local police. Mistrust between police and immigrant communities can lead to underreporting of crimes, leaving all of us vulnerable to violence and impairing officers’ ability to investigate and solve crimes. 

When public officials weigh the critical decision of whether or not to implement Secure Communities in their states and districts, they cannot look to a single event to help them make that determination. For every Nicolas Guaman, there is an Antonio Diaz Chacon from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Recently, Chacon—like Guaman, an undocumented immigrant—jumped into his truck when he witnessed the kidnapping of a 6-year-old girl, and chased down the alleged abductor. Chacon then rescued the child and is working with the police as they charge the suspect with kidnapping and child abuse. Would this little girl be alive today if Chacon had been deported under Secure Communities? Thankfully, we’ll never have to wonder.

For every tragic story like Denice’s horrific death, there is a complementary story about an immigrant who saved a life, helped his neighbor, or otherwise made a positive difference. These stories may be harder to find in the “if it bleeds, it leads” news mentality of today, but they are out there. Isolated events, no matter how poignant, should not be used to shape our public policy. Denice’s family said it best on the Facebook page they created for him: “There is too much hate in this world already. The political issues should be fought separately and should not be mixed in with what Matthew, and our family, are about.”

Places: United States