Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

When doing the right thing leads to arrest

An illegal immigrant assists police and gets deported

By Sara B. MillerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 7, 2004

Danny Sigui saw a murder unfold. He called 911 and testified as the key witness during the trial. In the process, he unwittingly alerted officials to his immigration status, and days later was arrested and jailed.

Skip to next paragraph

"For doing a good thing, this is what I get," says Mr. Sigui, who came to the US illegally in 1989 from Guatemala. He was deported back there in late October.

The episode has turned a spotlight on the tension between local officials and federal immigration authorities when it comes to deciding how best to keep the public safe.

Advocates for immigrants and many police officers insist that immigrants are less likely to cooperate with law-enforcement officials if they fear deportation. In fact, many police support confidentiality policies, which discourage them from reporting an immigrant's status.

Opponents, however, say "sanctuary laws" encourage more illegal immigration, undermine America's war on terrorism, and contravene federal immigration laws.

The debate has moved forward nationally as Congress considers legislation that in effect would deputize local and state police as federal immigration officers. Under the CLEAR Act, police would be responsible for pursuing undocumented immigrants for visa violations or lose certain federal funds.

The argument for these policies is that "whoever has the resources" should enforce borders, says Sarah Paoletti, a human rights lawyer at the Washington College of Law at American University.

"The argument against it is [that] immigration law is just so complicated, that to try to effectively handle it by local police ... can lead to lots of abuses. You don't want to have a

have a disincentive for witnesses to come forward."

Sigui, for one, says he isn't sure he'd come forward again, if he could relive that fateful night in December, 2001. He was replacing the distributor in his Jeep Cherokee in Central Falls, R.I., when he heard a fight break out, which quickly spiraled into a fatal stabbing.

"Danny said that if something happened to his family, he would have wanted someone to come forward," says Gregory Pehrson at Progreso Latino in Central Falls. "He thought it was the right thing to do."

Sigui's testimony was crucial when the murder case went to trial last summer in the Providence County Superior Court. On June 23, Robert Silvia was found guilty of killing Joseph Lima outside the Somewhere Else Bar. Two days later, Sigui was arrested by immigration officials.

His case has provoked outrage in Central Falls, a working-class, immigrant community near Providence.

"Sanctuary laws," which have been in place in traditional immigrant gateways like New York, San Francisco, and Houston since the 1980s, have been a divisive issue, especially since 9/11. Last summer, US Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) of Colorado tried to cut off Justice Department funding for "sanctuary" cities.

Critics say confidentiality policies are not only illegal under the 1996 federal immigration law, they are moral infractions. "They allow illegal immigrants to establish themselves as residents and possibly commit an act of terrorism against American families," says David Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). "They shelter would-be terrorists from federal detection."