August 2019

Revisiting “Shadow Immigration Enforcement and its Constitutional Dangers,” a journal article by Maureen A. Sweeney

Writen By: Bilal Abbas, AMHP Chapter Development Director

Maureen A. Sweeney addressed the rising role local governments are starting to play in enforcing immigration law, a function that the federal government has been tasked with. The academic terms this as ‘shadow immigration enforcement,’ since it is essentially for lack of better words, an overtly covert operation, and one that has been publicly acknowledged, but remains ‘under the table.’ She raises constitutional concerns due to racial profiling. The two enforcement agencies carrying out the tasks also leads to a lack of unity in command and confusion in goals and objectives, especially with collaboration leading to sharing of evidence which is impermissible. This is explained as such according to the ‘Silver Platter’ ruling, where federal courts cannot benefit from evidence illegally obtained by state actors. Moreover, an ‘under the table’ nature of practice raises questions about incentives in place alongside ethical ones.

According to my synopsis, the roots of the issues being addressed in this article are at the very core of the system of government that this country was founded upon. The system of federalism is one of checks and balances, of separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and the legislative branches of government. However, this separation of powers is not limited to that. While drafting the constitution, in being vary of possible tyrannical ambitions of a ‘larger’ government, the framers had the insight to divide state and federal governments as well. This latter form of separation of powers was implied so that government does not infringe on daily living affairs of locals, however with the caveat that in ruling, the federal trumps its junior counterpart, ensuring unity, law and order.

Having said that, because of the larger role, there are certain services or responsibilities that the federal government is tasked with, that state governments do not answer for. Immigration authority, for example, is one such function which falls under the Federal Department of Homeland Security. This article highlights the rise of local police enforcement feigning powers granted under their purview, such as routine traffic stops, to target those that may appear to be of foreign ethnic backgrounds. The most common method of intelligence gathering has been sanctioned by the Arizona Supreme Court, and entails police officers gathering information about immigration status of the populous and informally passing on the information to the Department of Homeland Security officers, despite having no immigration enforcement training, experience or authority. Department of Justice studies also found that Latino drivers were targeted between four and ten times greater than non-Latino drivers.

Evidence provided as a separate illustration includes Transportation Security Administration employees at airports who were found engaging in discriminatory practices. Latinos and African Americans were specifically targeted in hopes that searches would yield drugs, weapons, or other paraphernalia leading to arrests. As many as 80 percent of those searched were minorities, and the Newark International Airport Transportation Security Administration employees were notoriously dubbed “the Great Mexican Hunters” for their discriminatory practices. Maureen (2014) indicates that their superiors tasked them to “look for behaviors that could be justified as suspicious,” for making referrals to immigration authorities.

A question of constitutionality is raised. The fifth and fourteenth amendment make for equal protection of laws to all persons. Policies that differentiate or categorize people according to their race or ethnicity are subject to strict scrutiny.

Further evidence indicates that police officers have been encouraged, in part by their superiors to enforce immigration enforcement and in part by the immigration authorities who turn a blind eye to this overreach. Apart from adding strain due to undue mandates added to local law enforcement tasks, the federal government does not provide additional funding or explicit language allowing for this, which may protect against lawsuits. Also, if immigration enforcement is assigned as state law enforcement tasks, then local taxpayer monies are being used inappropriately. The silver platter doctrine, which has been struck down by courts entails that the federal courts cannot profit from evidence illegally seized by state officers. However, by allowing such evidence in immigration cases, there is certainly a double standard on display. Illegal immigration is not a phenomenon that can be understood through a punitive lens alone, as it is comprised of much more complex issues including social, economical, familial, opportunity, discrimination and liberty.

Sweeney calls for a higher level of awareness among constituencies, and all government agencies involved. There is a call for vigorous advocacy, due to the public mood and political climate resulting from higher rates of immigration in recent decades. It is suggested that the issue be aggressively addressed by activists, judges, law enforcement administrators, government officers, and attorneys who should use all tools in their repertoire to ensure everyone is granted equal protection and equitable treatment.

This article was published in 2014, and there could not be a more appropriate time to revisit it than today. The public mood has rapidly traveled into directions in which the author had suggested in regard to both shadow enforcement, and fearless activism. There have been immigration policy agendas that were floated in the media to test public opinion, including bans, the construction of walls and mass deportations. Some deemed these acceptable, mainly due to economic stress and safety concerns. Now that the officials have been elected on their policy platforms, they are advancing their agendas, as was promised to the public.

The United States is a beacon of hope, and arguably the most blessed country on earth. What makes this country great is that there are individuals like the author of this article, who will always refer to the constitution, the framers, and the very fabric of the principles with which this country was founded upon.  


Sweeney, M. A. (2014). SHADOW IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT AND ITS CONSTITUTIONAL DANGERS. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 104(2), 227-282.


July 2019

Harm Reduction or perpetuation of harm? Unsanctioned drug consumption rooms from a social work perspective
Writen By: Bilal Abbas, AMHP Chapter Development Director

Safe consumption rooms are facilities where individuals administer drugs in an environment which provides medical oversight for mitigating adverse reactions during and immediately after drug consumption. The effectiveness of safe consumption rooms has been determined and documented in several industrialized nations which feature fully sanctioned and operational facilities. In the US however, evidence is lacking and discussions are ongoing since such facilities are not considered legal. Safe consumption rooms would face federal scrutiny under the Controlled Substance Act and be shut down. In fact, legal battles have commenced with US prosecutors shutting down safe consumption facility “Safehouse” located in Kensington, Philadelphia, an area known for drug use.

What do social workers, and local community healthcare providers do to save lives during the litigation period? As of July 2018, there are at least 13 proposed sites seeking approval for safe consumption rooms, including in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Vermont, and Delaware. Simultaneously, there are reports of dozens upon dozens of unsanctioned safe consumption rooms in the US, all on a mission to save lives.

But could unsanctioned safe consumption sites perpetuate harm as opposed to reducing it?

Sanctioned facilities in other countries implement models of care which entail qualified medical professionals providing supervision when a drug is administered. These professionals have undergone extensive training for responding to medical emergencies. The path to a nursing profession usually takes anywhere from 2-4 years, with specialized training in triage. While it has been confirmed that Narcan (overdose reversal drug) training helps mitigate negative consequences, it is limited when faced with serious medical complications, for example seizures.

Harm Reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences with drug use. Naturally, safe consumption rooms are a modality of harm reduction, where there is potential for mitigating life-threatening circumstances including reversing overdoses and creating windows of opportunity for implementing treatment interventions through education.

But Harm Reduction is more than that. It is a movement for social justice which believes in, and respects rights of drug users. The concept of social justice is one of fair, just, and equitable relations between individuals and society. The question evolves into one of a global society, where some individuals engaged in safe consumption have access to medical professional handling when consuming drugs, while others have access to Narcan trained laymen. The differences in quality of service at safe consumption rooms between a nurse triaging medical complications and a layman are yet to be examined, but it would be safe to assume that if given a choice, the majority would prefer a nurse, or other qualified medical professional to respond.

From the social work perspective, we must consider the NASW code of ethics concerning practicing only in areas of competence; providing services and representing ourselves as competent only within the boundaries of our education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience.


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