Blog Post: Chief of Police Ruben Quesada (Swampscott, MA) Reflects on The Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force Meeting as Part of The Leading the Way Conference in Houston
January 22, 2024
Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force Blog
What did you enjoy most about attending Leading the Way in Houston this year? What is your biggest takeaway?
I truly enjoyed making connections with individuals from a broad spectrum of expertise and professions. It is an opportunity to discuss the challenges we face as a nation as it revolves around immigration reform, pathways to citizenship, the border, and national security, in addition to the various regional issues that each state might confront. The most important takeaway is the importance to generate a common bipartisan approach to destigmatize the term “immigration reform” to mean growth, safety, and prosperity rather than criminalization, illegal activity, or degradation of American values.
Please provide examples of how Leading the Way activities and panel discussions could influence your work with immigrant communities in your region.
One of the most memorable things that reverberated with me was one of the panel experts who echoed that it is more difficult to obtain treatment for drug addiction than it is to acquire illicit drugs. Having been in the policing profession for the past 31 years, this reminded me of the many individuals I have come across who suffered from drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. In my profession, the mentality has been that if you violate the law, you must face the consequence for your action(s). What happens to these individuals if the system is structured only to apply punitive measures rather than structured as a harm-reduction model? Whose interest are we really serving? If we are not serving those who need assistance, what good does the overburdened criminal justice system serve? We must support all individuals on their road to recovery.
How did the LEITF meeting as part of Leading the Way help inform you about current policy discussions in Washington D.C.?
Policy discussions are ever-changing in Washington D.C. Many of the discussions are centered around securing the border or national security, foreign aid, mental health, drug addiction and inflation, to name a few. Due to partisan politics, these topics are constantly evolving into concessions between the GOP and Democrats. The LEITF is an established essential conduit of information-sharing between law enforcement professionals in how each of these discussions can affect and change the way the public safety profession evolves toward the future.
During the LEITF meeting and discussion, were there any similarities LEITF members mentioned that you have seen in your law enforcement career?
One of the issues discussed by my Texas law enforcement colleagues was their experience in witnessing undocumented immigrants preying on fellow undocumented immigrants. While this issue is well documented in the criminological literature, in the course of my law enforcement career I have been witness to victims of violence underreporting criminal activity. The underreporting of crime stems from cultural, language, and fear of deportation because of individuals’ immigration status. When the generalization is made to “send them all back,” we are denigrating our fundamental human rights whereas all individuals should be treated with dignity and respect, especially those who are victims of crime. Those individuals who commit crimes must be held responsible and accountable, but those undocumented crime victims should not be treated as any less because we have not yet established a pathway to their citizenship.
After the LEITF meeting, what is one thing that you would like to see the task force do/focus on?
Training immediately comes to mind. Whether it is policy updates, communication techniques, or collaboration strategies to increase community safety and community policing. The profession is always seeking better ways to ameliorate community challenges. I will be the first to admit that I, as a Police Chief, may not have all the answers. My job is to continually learn, listen, and attempt to understand how we can improve the quality of life for all our constituents. The greatest lesson I have learned in my years of policing is to exclude the phrase “me or I.” Alone I can solve a little, but together WE can solve anything. I wholeheartedly carry that optimism in both my personal and professional life.
How do you think the LEITF can help to move the needle at the intersection of immigration reform and law enforcement?
As the law enforcement profession continues to evolve toward much-needed reform, it would be beneficial for the LEITF to incorporate discussion into how immigration reform intersects with national minimum policing standards across various states. Currently there are no national policing standards. While every state has basic police requirements, each state is vastly different in scope and authority for police standards and certification requirements. This is especially important in creating standards like the Eight Can’t Wait movement that creates policies to decrease police use of force, increase communication, require de-escalation, and improve interactions between individuals and the police. This can similarly apply to immigration issues and those individuals who experience language barriers. It also disavows law enforcement from participating in state politics which places them in a situation that violates basic human rights. Texas Senate Bill 4 which empowers police to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country, immediately comes to mind.
Looking ahead, any recommendations for the LEITF in the new year?
The only hope I have is for the LEITF to continue to carry the momentum forward. Continue to have these crucial conversations between law enforcement and the diverse communities we have sworn to protect. The hallmark of our profession is built on trust and understanding. If we are to achieve our objective of community safety, then it will take cooperation and trust between all involved to get there.