Check out this interview with Nick Taiber, former City Council member in Cedar Falls, Iowa, who became an drug informant when he was a teenager, and Luke Hunt, former FBI agent and now professor. Taiber describes how police pressured him at age 17 to become an informant after a car accident. Hunt says “What’s most troubling to me is a very common scenario in which the police compel an informant to do certain operational acts because they have a tremendous amount of power and leverage over the person.” More here from Slate: How Police Turn Teens Into Informants.
Families & Youth
ProPublica and New York Magazine published this story about Henry, a teenager in Brentwood, Long Island, who agreed to inform on his MS-13 gang to the FBI. The federal government then decided to deport him back to El Salvador, leaving him unprotected against the gang: A Betrayal: The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death. From the story:
“Under normal circumstances, Henry’s choice would have been his salvation. By working with the police, he could have escaped the gang and started fresh. But not in the dawning of the Trump era, when every immigrant has become a target and local police in towns like Brentwood have become willing agents in a nationwide campaign of detention and deportation.”
For other instances where the government has failed to protect immigrant informants, see these posts.
More broadly, the government often pressures or incentivizes immigrants to give information which is then used to deport them. This law review article surveys the law, and argues that such policies are counterproductive: Amanda Frost, Can the Government Deport Immigrants Using Information it Encouraged Them to Provide? Administrative Law Review, Vol. 2, No. 97, 2017. Here is the abstract:
“This Essay describes the legal and policy issues raised by any systematic effort to deport unauthorized immigrants based on information the government invited them to provide. Part I briefly surveys some of the major laws, regulations, and programs that encourage unauthorized immigrants to identify themselves. Part II analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the statutory and constitutional arguments that immigrants could raise as a defense against deportations based on self-reported data. Part III explains that even if the government’s systematic use of such data to deport unauthorized immigrants is legal, doing so would be a poor policy choice for any administration, even one that seeks to drastically increase deportations. The federal government has always balanced immigration enforcement against other goals and values, such as deterring crime, protecting wages and working conditions, collecting taxes, and preventing U.S. citizen children from being separated from their parents. Deporting immigrants based on information provided in the service of these greater goals would elevate immigration enforcement over all other federal policies. Furthermore, doing so would almost immediately render these laws a dead letter, since no rational unauthorized immigrant would apply for visas or pay taxes if doing so were tantamount to self-deportation. Accordingly, any increase in removals from the use of such data is sure to be fleeting, while the damage done to immigrants’—and perhaps all citizens’—trust in the government will be permanent.”
In the wake of the death of college student Andrew Sadek, North Dakota has passed Andrew’s Law, an important piece of legislation that sets a new standard in informant reform. Some of the most heartening aspects of the bill are as follows:
- It bans the use of informants who are 15 years old or younger. Only California and New Jersey currently ban the use of juvenile informants at the state level, and their cutoff is 12 years old.
- College police may not use college students as informants.
- Police officers must be trained before they use informants.
- All informant agreements must be in writing. The agreement must include, among other things, an explanation of what the informant is expected to do and what benefit they can expect to receive. This is particularly important since young and vulnerable informants may not know what is expected of them, and law enforcement may continue to use them without clear boundaries or limits.
- The agreement must tell the informant of their right to consult with counsel.
- The agreement must warn the informant that the work may be dangerous.
- The bill creates procedures for complaints, and an investigative process when an informant is killed.
Isaiah Wall was 19 and, according to his friends and his phone, working as a police informant. He was killed by a gunshot to his head. The Idaho State Police have not acknowledged whether he was working for them, or whether his death was related to his undercover activities. Here is the ongoing investigation: Unfinished Business.
Rachel Hoffman was a young informant who was killed in 2008. Her parents’ activism and lobbying led to the passage of Rachel’s Law in Florida, which created new, more thoughtful police guidelines for handling informants. Rachel’s mother, Margie Weiss, has remained a vocal activist and educator on the issue of informant reform. As she put it, “[s]cared kids get talked into assisting the police department or some law enforcement agency for some smaller crime, and then gets sent into a much larger, much more dangerous situation. Initially my daughter was arrested for having less than an ounce of pot…and she received a death sentence.” Here is the interview with her: How One Mother Turned Tragedy Into Triumph: The Rachel Morningstar Hoffman Story.