In Upstate New York Border City, Police Teach Immigrant Business Owners To Prevent Crime


buffalo police car


In Buffalo, N.Y., an aggressive border patrol enforcement program is in place that a recent study found yielded hundreds of improper arrests and detentions of immigrants. So it was unusual that the Buffalo Police department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security convened with the city’s immigrant business owners this week to help them stay safe.

The seminar titled “Small Business Ownership in the Immigrant Community” taught about 50 immigrant small-business owners in this border city how to avoid crime and drug dealers, according to the Buffalo News. Buffalo’s West Side neighborhood had been a hot spot for drug sales and gangs, but small businesses owned by immigrants have revitalized the area in recent years.

Buffalo Police Lt. Steve Nichols taught immigrant business owners to cooperate with robbers and to stay calm. He said, “Only use one register at night, and keep the second one open with the drawer open to show a little money…Have a camera facing the register and front counter. One of the biggest deterrents is keeping the front blinds open and front windows clears of signs. We want the registers and the clerk behind the counter to be visible at all times.”

A February investigation by Families For Freedom and New York University’s Immigrant Rights Clinic found that police are incentivized with cash and gift cards to make border patrol arrests, resulting in 300 arrests of individuals with legal status at just one border stop investigated in Rochester, NY. Buffalo is part of the same enforcement region, but no results were compiled on that city’s arrests.

These sorts of programs promote distrust of police, and studies have confirmed that they hurt rather than harm public safety. Public safety levels drop in cities where the police pursue immigrants based on immigration status, especially through federal sanctioned programs like Secure Communities or 287(g), which allow local law officials to enforce immigration policies. The most common issue includes distrust of law enforcement by victims of abuse and violence because of deportation fears. The frayed relationships can lead to underreporting of crime. In particular, police in Davidson County, TN, had to stop their 287(g)program after it ensnared too many immigrants who committed minor offenses.

The Buffalo program was intended to make immigrants “feel comfortable going to the right group of law enforcement,” according to Hodan Isse, a leader for the immigrant advocacy group that organized the event, HEAL International. From the perspective of Imam Yahye Omar, executive director of HEAL, “here in America, police are your friend.”