Police look to undocumented workers to help solve crimes - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Police look to undocumented workers to help solve crimes

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New Orleans, La. - New Orleans Police say they need everyone's help to keep the city safe. The problem is there's an entire community of people who are afraid to report crimes because they're in this country illegally.

An illegal immigrant who lives in New Orleans, Santiago, describes why he didn't call the police when he was robbed at gunpoint.

"I threw myself on the ground and that's when I heard he cocked the gun," Santiago said through translator and Spanish activist Marisa Rodriguez.

Santiago didn't need to speak English to understand the gun pointing at his head when a man demanded his money.

"I looked in the corner of my eye and I could tell it was a big gun, and at that point is when I took out my wallet and I just threw it," Santiago said in Spanish.

He said robbers know that many undocumented workers get paid in cash. 

"What I do, I just keep what I need and the rest of it I will send to my family back home. That way, I don't have any cash on me," Santiago said.

Santiago is part of the migrant force that came here to make a better living by rebuilding houses after Katrina.

He makes $12.50/hour at his construction job, and $10.00/hour at his second job in a restaurant kitchen.

He sends money home to his parents, wife and four kids. He hasn't seen any of them since he left Honduras and sneaked into the United States in 2007.

Going back isn't an option, he says, and risking deportation isn't an option either.

But calling New Orleans police does not mean you're calling immigration services. Officer Janssen Valencia says officers do not ask victims of crimes or witnesses to crimes about their immigration status.

"Their status is not important in this," Valencia said. "If they're a victim of a crime, or if they're a witness of a crime, we need to know. Why? We want to be able to solve this."

Valencia is the New Orleans Police Department's "El Protector": a liaison and officer who most often works with New Orleans' Spanish-speaking population.

"I want to show that there's a level of trust, that we can talk," Valencia said.

Undocumented workers are part of the community, and his job is to keep the community safe, Valencia said.

It's why Santiago called the police the next time he was robbed. Three people came into his home yielding knives, and he says they robbed him and his roommates of more than $2,000.

Santiago said, when he talked to the police, "they didn't mention anything about immigration, and I don't feel afraid anymore."

The New Orleans Police Department is adding new components to the "El Protector" Program in order to reach out to more people in the Spanish speaking community. The department has begun offering Spanish language and culture classes to officers.

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