Rosa Pastrana, 45, sits on the edge of her pickup truck before starting her block-watch patrol in the neighborhoods around 51st Avenue and McDowell Road in west Phoenix.(Photo: Patrick Breen, The Arizona Republic)
PHOENIX — For the past six years, Rosa Pastrana has patrolled the streets and responded to calls and text messages from neighbors as president of her neighborhood block watch.
Once the petite 45-year-old gets to a location, she calls police and waits for officers to arrive, mediating a relationship between her mostly Spanish-speaking community and law enforcement. But case by case, the patrol has helped form a bridge between her predominantly immigrant neighborhood and the police assigned to the precinct.
Now, Pastrana, president of the Osborn Block Watch, is worried that her group's hard work will be wasted and crime once again will rise if deportations ramp up in the city.
The Trump administration is reaching out to deputize local and state authorities across the USA in federal immigration matters. Agency participation is voluntary.
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“The community has fear, a lot of fear,” Pastrana said. “Ever since Donald Trump won, that day people started to feel scared. And to this day, he still has us traumatized."
If local agencies enforce national immigration policy, the effects will be disastrous, Pastrana, Phoenix police and experts say. Communities will become less safe because individuals and entire neighborhoods will be reluctant to report crime and cooperate with police if they fear deportation.
“Ever since Donald Trump won, that day people started to feel scared. And to this day, he still has us traumatized.”Rosa Pastrana, Phoenix's Osborn Block Watch
The link between undocumented immigrants and police officers has long been delicate.
In Arizona, police agencies and prosecutors are working to keep lines of communication open even as fear grows. Representatives in metro Phoenix and Arizona’s border counties told The Arizona Republic they remain focused on local police responsibilities, their priorities will not change and they have no interest in being deputized to assist with federal immigration matters.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone replaced Joe Arpaio, who was in office for 24 years and whose department conducted illegal racial profiling of Latinos. Penzone has created a Hispanic Advisory Committee to help his agency learn about issues and concerns that exist, said Mark Casey, a sheriff's spokesman.
The agency’s outreach also was expanded by adding staff who have experience in building relationships with minority communities, Casey said.
“We’ve attended town halls and coffees and met with the community’s representative and members,” he said. “We want to assure those who are victims or witnesses of crimes that they can come forward to speak. They can do so without concern. ...
"It’s going to be our commitment to show that we are ethical and professional and that we’ll treat everyone with respect,” Casey said.
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The county's chief prosecutor, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, said at a recent news conference that crime victims and witnesses shouldn’t worry about their immigration status in reporting criminal activity to police.
"Your cooperation, your participation with the investigation and the subsequent prosecution is necessary to hold offenders accountable," he said. "Your immigration status does not matter. It's not the focus of the criminal investigation."
Then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., right, sends undocumented immigrants in July 2006 in the Phoenix area on a midnight ride to be handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol in Yuma, Ariz. (Photo: Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic)
Steve Kilar, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said he believes Arizona agencies learned lessons about immigration enforcement years ago. In 2012, a federal judge and a later appeals court decision took away the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office authority to detain people solely on the suspicion that they're undocumented, and the state immigration-enforcement law best known as Senate Bill 1070 faced multiple court challenges.
“They have no intentions of turning back,” Kilar said. “They understand the damages ... 1070 did to their reputations. They realize it made their jobs harder when people saw them as immigration officers."
Lydia Guzman, a Phoenix immigration activist, agrees that local authorities understand the importance of community policing and what is needed to make that work.
But an estimated 325,000 people are living in Arizona without authorization — according to the most recent data, from 2014, from the Pew Research Center — and she understands why they are afraid.
“We have a lot of good cops here in Arizona,” Guzman said. “But we’re seeing in the news every day that someone is getting wrapped up in the system when they're following the proper steps. They get detained when they show up to court or when they show up at a police station."
• In late January in Florida, Ana Mentado Contador was pulled over after police ran the license plate on her van and discovered that its owner had an expired driver's license, the Naples (Fla.) Daily News reported. She spent the next two weeks in jail, was assigned a public defender, pleaded no contest, was told she had served her time and ordered to pay court costs. Instead of leaving jail Feb. 10, she was taken to an ICE detention facility west of Miami.
• On Feb. 8 in Phoenix, Guadalupe Garcia De Rayos was detained during a routine check-in at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. The Mesa, Ariz., mother, who has been living in Arizona for two decades, was deported the next day.
• On Feb. 9 in Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained a woman living in the country illegally as she sought a protective order at the El Paso County Courthouse against a boyfriend she accused of domestic violence, the El Paso Times reported. The El Paso County Attorney's Office said it believed the boyfriend tipped off immigration authorities.
• On March 2 in Phoenix, Garcia De Rayos' scenario played out for Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia, a single father detained on his son's birthday and deported to Nogales, Sonora, the next afternoon.
“What does that say to the people?” Guzman said. “Shouldn't they be afraid?
"Right now, we're in new waters. Both law enforcement and the community are at a loss for what they should be doing," she said. "I just hope law enforcement will show compassion above all."
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Guzman described immigrants in the U.S. without authorization as the perfect victims.
“They can be taken advantage of more than ever now,” Guzman said. “If a bad person knows someone’s status, they know they won’t speak up for themselves. They know they’re vulnerable.”
This imbalance of power could happen in domestic and workplace situations alike, she said.
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“A person can say, ‘What are you going to do, report me? I can report you, too,’ ” Guzman said. “This is what Trump has done. He’s put people in a position where they can’t seek help.”
The fear seen in Pastrana's Maryvale neighborhood plays out in other parts of the country.
• In Denver, City Attorney Kristin Bronson said the fear of deportation caused prosecutors to drop four domestic-violence cases, KUSA-TV, Denver, reported. Victims in those cases feared running into officers at court who could deport them.
• In Indianapolis, the police chief walked his old beat March 3 to reassure the neighborhood with a large Hispanic population that local officers don't work with federal immigration authorities or ask questions about immigration status when responding to an incident, The Indianapolis Star reported. Some Latino churches are seeing fewer families at services, and ministers think that some are wary of being part of large gatherings of Spanish speakers.
• In central Wisconsin, police also are tackling Spanish-speaking residents' anxiety, the Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald reported. The region's law-enforcement agencies are reaching out to migrants to reassure them that police officers and county deputies are not acting as federal immigration agents.
A central point of Trump’s orders and a mainstay of his immigration rhetoric is the view that people in the U.S. illegally present a significant threat to national security and public safety.
“Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents,” states a memorandum from John Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
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Yet fact-checking groups have shown that Trump's claims about crimes that undocumented immigrants commit and American crime rates in general are largely inaccurate and exaggerated. Research including a Justice Department study in 2000, a University of Massachusetts study published in 2012, and a study from professors at five universities published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, has indicated that immigrants, including those in the United States without authorization, commit violent crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans.
While immigration has increased since the 1990s, the crime rate has decreased, according to census data.
“If a bad person knows someone’s status, they know they won’t speak up for themselves. They know they’re vulnerable.”Lydia Guzman, Phoenix
And so-called “sanctuary cities,” which Trump calls incubators of criminal activity, generally are safer than other cities, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive public-policy organization.
“Look at the trends. They show the truth,” said Philip Wolgin, the managing director for immigration policy at the center. “What we are seeing from Trump’s administration is political opportunism.”
The Washington-based group recently conducted a study that analyzed the effects of sanctuary policies on crime and economy. FBI crime rates for sanctuary counties, defined in the study as those not willing to accept ICE detainers, were compared to all crime rates for non-sanctuary counties. The research found that crime is significantly lower in sanctuary counties.
Wolgin explained that the data specifically showed that the overall crime rate was about 15% lower in counties where local authorities refuse to perform federal immigration duties.
A typical sanctuary county in a large metropolitan area experiences 654 fewer crimes per 100,000 residents than the typical non-sanctuary county in a big metro area, Wolgin said. The same result was found in smaller counties as well as rural areas.
To be sure, undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes.
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Grant Ronnebeck, 21, was killed in January 2015 while working at a QuikTrip store in Mesa. The man charged in the killing, Apolinar Altamirano, 29, was in the country illegally and had been released from ICE custody in 2013 after posting a bond even though he had been convicted of a felony burglary.
Altamirano's case still awaits trial.
“Certainly, no one is going to argue that we shouldn’t be stopping violent crimes and violent criminals," Wolgin said. "But the idea that, ‘Well, the crime only happened because they were here, so we will be safer,’ is a circular logic because now we are no longer prioritizing (for deportation) those violent criminals."
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“The specter of the bogeyman is a way to crack down on immigration. It’s a falsehood," Wolgin said. "(Trump) is taking isolated incidents, terrible incidents, and painting immigrants with a broad brush as if they are all criminals.”
Rather than make communities safer, Trump’s immigration orders will have the opposite effect on public safety, Wolgin said.
“Crime will go up,” he said. “If you have a population that isn’t willing to come forward and interact with police, you’ve got a disastrous problem, ... not just for the undocumented communities but for everyone.”
On a warm March evening, Pastrana pulls into a Burger King.
Parked, she climbs down from her truck and opens the back doors for her two passengers, Ruben Acevedo, 18, and Pedro Estevez, 75.
"These are my security guys," she said, partially joking.
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After, they pile back into the truck, Pastrana makes a left to start a leisurely route through a nearby neighborhood.
"This isn't specifically my area, but I like to patrol here as well because there seems to be more crime the further west and south you go," she said.
“The specter of the bogeyman is a way to crack down on immigration. It’s a falsehood. (Trump) is taking isolated incidents, terrible incidents, and painting immigrants with a broad brush as if they are all criminals.”Philip Wolgin, Center for American Progress
This past summer, a man that police dubbed a serial street shooter terrorized west Phoenix. The shooter, believed to have killed seven people, still hasn't been identified; six of his victims were slain in Pastrana's neighborhood.
From a box, Pastrana pulls out a Silent Witness flier created for the ongoing investigation. She had passed them out to residents living on the streets where the shootings had taken place, urging them to step forward if they had any information.
From the back seat, Acevedo and Estevez survey the area as Pastrana maneuvers down the poorly lit street.
"That's no good," she said, pointing out several streetlights. "The darkness can breed crime. I'm making a note of that so I can report it to the city."
Acevedo has joined Pastrana's patrols for the past two years after he met her during a neighborhood meeting. What Pastrana was doing to better the community inspired him to get involved, to show others that those who live in the area care about it.
"Growing up here, I've seen it all," Acevedo said. "I want to help my community be safe and help the people know it's important to work together to keep violence down, especially at a time like this."
Because of Pastrana's leadership in her community, she has had multiple opportunities to speak directly with city leaders and authorities.
While Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's statements reassuring residents that the city's police department won't turn into a "mass deportation force" and changes made at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office comfort her, she said she still has doubts.
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"What if the time comes that they won't answer my calls?" Pastrana asked. "I trust them. But the people I speak to, they have bosses, and they have bosses. It goes all the way up to the big boss, Trump."
In the meantime, she said she will continue her work and advise her neighbors to have hope.
"Neither Phoenix police nor (Penzone) has given us a sign that they will attack us, so we need to trust them," Pastrana said. "If I see that they come to hurt us, that's when my support for them will end."
Contributing: Laura Gómez, The Arizona Republic. Follow Yihyun Jeong on Twitter @yihyun_jeong