Oak Bluffs police pamphlet advises Brazilian drivers on Mass. laws
Oak Bluffs police will distribute a pamphlet they've created to ease the apprehension that members of the Island's Brazilian community tell police they experience, apart from fears stemming from their sometimes unclear immigration status, when they interact with the police. The pamphlet also describes state laws regarding driving regulations, domestic violence, and restraining orders. It encourages Brazilians not to let fear get in the way of reporting a crime.
Some of the criminal laws discussed in the pamphlet cover infractions that are common in the Brazilian community, for instance driving without a license.
Chief Erik Blake said the problem of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on Oak Bluffs roads is "astronomical," and he hopes the pamphlet will encourage Brazilians to seek proper driving licenses or forgo driving altogether.
"Do not purchase, make, carry, or present a fake license, Social Security card, or other legal document," the pamphlet explains. "To do so is a felony and is punishable by significant jail time and possible deportation or other immigration problems."
In addition to 10 educational points regarding Massachusetts driving regulations, the pamphlet includes a definition of domestic abuse, and it states that despite immigration status, everyone has the right to protection for themselves and their loved ones. It suggests seeking help from social service agencies.
The pamphlet also makes clear that despite visa status, restraining orders can be obtained, and that divorces can be obtained, even by those who were not married in the U.S.
At the conclusion of the pamphlet is a list of resources, including phone numbers for the State Police, Women's Support Services and Legal Services for the Cape and Islands.
The pamphlet was translated into Portuguese and will be distributed by the middle of March. Chief Blake said it would be available at the station, distributed to Brazilian community leaders including ministers and reverends, and probably at the library and information booth.
Chief Blake said that he and Lieutenant Timothy Williamson put together the pamphlet (available here) after speaking with Brazilians living on the Island who said they are sometimes afraid to report a crime out of fear that they themselves will be arrested and deported for immigration violations. Secondhand reports and communication from Brazilian officer Leo D'Oliveira, who works with the West Tisbury police, tipped Oak Bluffs police to the fear in the community, Chief Blake said.
The pamphlet was created now, in response to what Chief Blake said is a constantly growing Brazilian population on Martha's Vineyard and an increasing incidence of police contact with members of the community.
"My focus is to create a transparent understanding between the police department and the Brazilian community," Chief Blake wrote in a cover letter attached to the pamphlet. "I want to make firmly clear that our legal authority defines our moral authority. Oak Bluffs Police do not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. That authority belongs exclusively to the United States government and the Oak Bluffs Police Department does not now, nor will it, attempt to enforce immigration law."
Chief Blake said he is trying to prevent serious crimes from occurring, specifically domestic violence and rape, by making members of the Brazilian community, even illegal aliens, comfortable with approaching the police for protection. In Brazil, people are afraid of the police, he said, but Brazilian immigrants should not have that same fear about police officials in Oak Bluffs.
"Moreover, Oak Bluffs Police are committed to serving the public safety needs of our community as well as rendering aid to all those who request it without regard to the immigration status of any person," the pamphlet reads.
But critics say the pamphlet contains language that conflicts with the basic principals of law enforcement. The pamphlet states that the Oak Bluffs police cannot "arrest or detain you simply because of your immigration status... even due to the existence of outstanding federal immigration warrants."
Chief Blake said the county sheriff's department has the authority to contact immigration authorities about suspects who are alleged to be here illegally, and local police do not have that power.
"We're not turning our heads to federal laws, it's just not within our scope of authority to be enforcing it," Chief Blake said. "We would do that if that was our mission, but that isn't what we're legally allowed to do."
Chief Blake is in a unique position personally. His wife became a United States citizen 10 years ago, after spending most of her life in the country. "I know the struggles that people that play by the rules go through," he said of the process. "You've got to give credit to the people who do come here legally and play by the rules."
He said if violating immigration laws were a local crime, local officials could enforce it, and he would support doing that. But in the meantime, turning suspects over to the sheriff is the limit of the town police's authority.
"My intention is not to come off so far to the left that we say go ahead and do whatever you want. We make no apologies for enforcing the laws of the Commonwealth," Chief Blake said. "We have to play by the rules that were handed to us."
The pamphlet says there has been a "misunderstanding as to our mission, especially traffic and immigration enforcement, and criminal investigations." Chief Blake said various members of the Island community have criticized the police for racial profiling, and picking specifically on Brazilian drivers. He said that is not the case, but when motorists are pulled over and asked for their licenses, many Brazilians do not have the proper documentation and are charged with being unlicensed drivers.
Overall, the chief promises professional treatment of those with whom the department comes in contact.
"Lastly, I want every member of our community to feel confident that the Oak Bluffs Police Department offers quality service and unwavering professionalism to the public," the pamphlet states, "particularly the immigrant community."