Paul Nitze: No bliss in immigration ignorance
August 26, 2011
Every day the president’s “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” folder gets a little fatter. Please file his decision to lift deportation orders for some illegal aliens in that category. The grim joke making the rounds is that the earthquake struck Martha’s Vineyard just hard enough to kick one of the president’s putts wide of the cup. It’s been another one of those weeks.
Dems and even a few moderate Republicans applauded Janet Napolitano’s announcement Thursday that ICE will undertake a review of pending deportation cases, all 300,000 of them, and defer prosecution of some low-risk illegal aliens. Exactly who will get a pass under this policy is unknown, but the guidelines are sensible: Those whose families are mostly in the U.S., who have no criminal history, and who are going to college or have served in the military, will get preference over others. Those whose cases are stayed can apply for work permits.
Republicans who have used this move to punch their ticket to the nativist express should be particularly ashamed. I’m thinking of Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who calls it a “plan to grant backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants.” The president has stuck his neck way out, amid much hand-wringing in his own caucus. He has added muscle to border enforcement and removed more illegal aliens annually than President Bush. Removal of criminal aliens is up 70 percent between 2008 and 2010.
The GOP has answered with rank obstruction. Not even the DREAM Act has made it to his desk. Now the administration is pushing harder on the levers it already controls. Public frustration has been stoked by the president’s unwillingness to combat Congressional obstruction with aggressive use of his executive authority. But to the credit of Secretary Napolitano and the president, immigration policy has been a bright spot for creative use of existing law.
Not that anyone is thanking him for it. The day before Secretary Napolitano’s announcement, activists marched out of meetings with the new Secure Communities task force. In Arlington, Va., some of the protesters chanted, “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama.” Many of the same newspapers that praised Napolitano on Friday have sided with those who want to dismantle Secure Communities.
This position is incoherent and unreasonable. The Los Angeles Times editorial board is the poster child for this attitude. In a June editorial, the paper called on the president to “scrap” Secure Communities until a comprehensive immigration bill is passed. In August it fired off another salvo, calling the president’s immigration policy “anemic,” and claiming that Secure Communities “deports many of the very people [Obama] says deserve a chance to stay.”
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Why is this incoherent? Because it praises an informed, technocratic approach when it allows people to stay in the country, but blasts the same approach when it results in increased removals. Nowhere does the paper mention that “scrapping” Secure Communities means a return to the days when there was zero coordination between ICE and local law enforcement. Even the worst criminals were released back into the community regardless of their immigration status.
Rather than harness all of the information available, the Times counsels ignorance. ICE is belatedly taking advantage of technology that allows us to know far more about illegal aliens than we used to. This includes criminal histories, family ties, prior illegal entries, duration of stay, biometric data, and work history. The more we know, the better we can give priority to those who meet our citizenship criteria.
The unreasonable bit comes in when the Times editorializes about limiting Secure Communities to “violent felons” and excluding “minor” criminals. This attitude offends the moral sensibilities of most Americans and insufficiently credits illegal aliens who have worked and lived in the U.S. without committing any crimes.
Here a few examples are in order. Two years ago I prosecuted a legal permanent resident who repeatedly whipped his son with a bull whip. Photos showed the child’s back was covered in new and old scars from the whippings. As is true of the overwhelming majority of child abuse and domestic violence cases in Colorado, the defendant was charged with and convicted of a misdemeanor. The case went to trial because the defendant’s lawyer feared that ICE would initiate removal proceedings if he were convicted.
Similar misdemeanor conduct by licensed professionals is a career ender. I have prosecuted doctors, lawyers, and police officers for crimes like drunken driving and domestic violence. A conviction usually means disbarment, loss of medical license, or being kicked off the force forever. Even for those who keep their jobs, there are myriad consequences for misdemeanor conduct – think loss of your driver’s license or a lifetime ban on gun ownership.
To attack Secure Communities for considering misdemeanor conduct is to believe that the same conduct that can end someone’s career should play no role in determining whether someone is fit to remain in the United States. This attitude is particularly mystifying when approximately 95 percent of illegal aliens have no criminal record at all.
Opponents of Secure Communities claim that ICE has made too many mistakes, which it surely has. These are still early days for the program. Taking the longer view, Secure Communities is one piece of a smarter immigration policy that makes better use of all relevant information. Here the president is on exactly the right track, and deserves better than he gets from opinion leaders.
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