Activists: Immigration Status Stops Some From Reporting Crime

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - Immigration status reportedly played a role in the Miramonte Elementary School sex scandal.

Some students and parents at in Los Angeles reportedly held off on telling authorities about what was going on for fear of deportation.

But, in the Coachella Valley, law enforcement agencies want all residents to feel comfortable reporting illegal activity.

In regards to how it deals with someone's immigration status, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said its job is to solve crimes. Regardless of a people's immigration status, if they are a victim or have witnessed a crime, they are asked to contact authorities, said Capt. Raymond Gregory.

"The Latino community, especially undocumented immigrants, are very afraid," said Armando Martinez, a member of the organization Comite Latino.

Mayor Eduardo Garcia has proclaimed the city of Coachella a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, but that isn't law.

"We think about it twice before reporting a crime," said Martinez.

Martinez is a U.S. citizen, but many of the people he helps are not. His organization works with families living in the U.S. illegally to help them apply for residency and citizenship.

The latest family to stop by his office on Thursday wanted to file the proper paperwork for a green card. They said being deported would be devastating.

"Families struggle and suffer because of that -- not only economically, but emotionally," said Martinez.

Comite Latino and other immigration advocates recently sat down with Capt. Gregory to discuss how deportations are handled locally.

"Someone had seen one of our vehicle stops and had also seen a Border Patrol on the vehicle stop and had information that the subject that was stopped eventually ended being deported," said Gregory.

There are times when Border Patrol gets involved in traffic stops and other investigations, only to ask the Sheriff's Department if it needs assistance.

By law, the two agencies have to work with one another, and ultimately Border Patrol is tasked with enforcing federal laws.

But, it is the Sheriff's Department's policy not to get into a person's immigration status.

"We want to have that trust in law enforcement, and sometimes we do doubt, should we call them or should we not?" said Martinez.

"We consciously make an effort to try to build bridges with the communities that we serve, and part of that is to reassure them that we're not there to check on their immigration status," said Gregory. "We are there to solve crimes and keep them from being victims."

During emergencies, calling 911 should always be the first choice, but if you have information about a crime, you can also always call Valley Crimestoppers at (760) 341-STOP.

You can remain anonymous and receive an up to $1,000 reward.

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