In Depth: Ensuring Immigrant Communities Share in Safety

A foundation of the Shared Safety approach is that no one group of people can be truly safe unless we all are. Immigrant communities face unique safety challenges because of policies that deny their dignity, exclude them from services and violate their rights.


While many immigration policies can only be changed at the federal level, states and localities have powerful tools at their disposal to promote the well-being of every person, regardless of his or her documentation status. In light of the current trend toward even more restrictive federal immigration policies, these tools will only become more essential in the coming years.

Provide equal access to health, education and economic opportunities

Many federal programs (such as SNAP and Medicaid) discriminate against individuals based on documentation status. States and localities can fill this gap by investing in the well-being of immigrant communities. When individuals are unable to receive preventative medical care, for instance, they are often forced to wait until their condition becomes a medical emergency to qualify for treatment, which costs local government both financially and socially.

Address adverse childhood experiences and family trauma

Many immigrants come to the U.S. fleeing poverty and civil war. The process of crossing the border can be especially traumatic for unaccompanied minors, who face the prospect of further trauma at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol officials. Unless these traumas are addressed at a young age, there may be lasting damage to the child’s cognitive, social and emotional skills.  

Make a clear distinction between law enforcement and immigration enforcement

When local law enforcement partners with federal authorities to identify and deport immigrants, police-community relations suffer and vulnerable people are forced further into the shadows. To build successful relationships with immigrant communities, law enforcement can learn from best practices across the country, distinguish itself from immigration authorities, leverage community partnerships, provide interpreters and translated materials when necessary and develop culturally relevant strategies to address core safety needs.  

Make counseling and resources accessible to crime survivors

Immigrant communities are often most vulnerable to crime and least likely to report crime. States and localities should ensure that these crime survivors receive the compensation, counseling and voice they are due in safe spaces serviced by community providers. In addition, victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and other serious crimes should be helped to apply for special visas if eligible.

Ensure due process protections for all

Regardless of documentation status, each and every person has constitutional protections, including due process. States and localities should not detain individuals before trial unless they are a flight risk or a danger to themselves or others. Specifically, local jails should not respond to requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold individuals for transfer to ICE custody.

Provide free or low-cost counsel in immigration and criminal proceedings

Defendants who lack the assistance of an attorney, or in some cases, an interpreter, are unable to properly defend their rights against imprisonment and deportation. In order to uphold these fundamental rights, many jurisdictions have limited the total caseload of public defenders. Others are exploring how to fund legal representation for immigrants requesting refugee status or facing deportation.