Tuesday, May 21

Sexual battery linked to undocumented immigrants sparks debate in Martin County

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder has long-named the southern U.S. border as his county’s main source of drug flow and jail overcrowding.

Now, he tells WPTV that undocumented immigrants are also connected to many of Martin County’s sex abuse crimes after a sexual battery near Lake Worth Beach.

WPTV was first to report three undocumented immigrants from Guatemala were accused of forcing a woman into a vehicle and sexually battering her at two locations just near John Prince Park late Monday, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

It further fuels an ongoing nationwide debate over the connection between immigration and crime.

“We have seen an enormous spike in sex crimes against juveniles here, and unfortunately a lot of that is occurring in the undocumented community,” Sheriff William Snyder said in an interview several weeks ago.

Snyder first addressed the issue shortly after he returned from the southern border in Arizona while highlighting the overcrowding issue in his jail.

Since the incident in Palm Beach County, WPTV reached back out to Snyder to elaborate.

“I’m not a sociologist, but my sense is that we see more sex crimes with some of our immigrant population because in their culture, it might not be the taboo that it is here,” Snyder said.

Snyder said there are 33 inmates in his jail that are holds for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of those, he said 28 are undocumented, and 10 of those, more than a third of those 28 individuals, have been charged with serious sex crimes.

“All are sex crimes against children,” Snyder said.

One of the latest of those cases includes an undocumented Guatemalan man now in the Martin County jail, who deputies said is wanted on rape charges in Oregon.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, however, said that incident and others are not representative of any immigrant, documented or not.

“It is unfortunate that because of a few bad apples, I’m going to use the language law enforcement uses as well, they paint everybody with a broad brush,” Adriana Rivera of the FLIC said. “For generations, crime rates have not been driven by immigrants, people who will become the new Americans.

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences analyzed data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and found in every felony crime category, undocumented immigrants had substantially lower crime rates.

While the study notes many national and state crime databases don’t record immigration status, Rivera feared assumptions will lead to prejudice.

“It’s ‘othering,’ its demonizing, it’s dehumanizing and you cannot cherry-pick feel-bad stories and completely forget all the good things immigration has brought to this country,” Rivera said.

Snyder agreed, telling WPTV many of the undocumented residents in his county are not committing crimes, but shared another concern.

“When you have someone here with no DNA, no fingerprints, no way to get a picture from a prior mugshot, we are at a huge deficit when we try to investigate crimes they may have committed,” Snyder said.

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