Busting the Myth: Immigration Law Enforcement Hurts Community Policing

Published on February 1st, 2011

I know that those who oppose my perspective will tell you that if local police were to take the time and the resources to enforce immigration laws that community policing efforts would suffer.  This is simply not true.  As you may know, I spent most of my 26 years as an INS special agent working in close cooperation with local police departments in New York.  One of the benefits they found in working with me was the fact that I could help them gain the cooperation of aliens who were involved in criminal activities and also help victims of crimes who were aliens by offering them opportunities to become cooperators.  There are various visas that can be given to aliens who cooperate with law enforcement that would ultimately enable them to remain in the United States lawfully and, in some cases, even enable them to have their families join them in the United States.  This provides a unique and extremely powerful incentive for aliens to cooperate with law enforcement. When a police officer interacts with anyone in the course of his (her) official duties, the first order of business is to identify that person. For example, if a motorist is observed committing a violation of motor vehicle law and the police officer has decided to issue a summons, the concern has to be as to whether or not the motorist is likely to appear in traffic court.  This is similar in nature to the way a judge conducts a bail hearing.  An individual who has no documentation to reliably establish his identity may well provide a false name and a nonexistent address.  In such an instance, if the person is issued a summons under a false name, it must be presumed that he will never appear in court.  Therefore it is a matter of commonsense and prudence to determine the true identity of the person encountered by law enforcement and must take immigration status into account. The issue of immigration status must also be taken into account by judges who are charged with setting bail in criminal cases.  There are only two components to a bail hearing–danger to the community and risk of flight.  Generally the issue of danger to the community is established by the nature of the crime the defendant is charged with.  Risk of flight can be quite nebulous.  Often the defendant’s immigration record can provide extremely insightful information.  Consider the clarity that may be provided to a judge officiating over a bail hearing if, for example, the defendant is an illegal alien who has jumped immigration bonds in the past, has previously provided multiple false identities and nonexistent addresses.  Certainly this sort of information can be absolutely essential to providing critical information to a judge who has to determine what bail, if any, should be set.  This information would only be available to the judge if local law enforcement takes immigration status into account and follows up by contacting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). On the other side, there are certain provisions of federal law that provide extremely potent tools for law enforcement to prosecute aliens engaged in criminal activities that can only be brought to bear if immigration laws and the cooperation of ICE can be secured.  For example, an alien who was deported from the United States and unlawfully reenters is facing a maximum of two years in jail if that alien has no felony convictions.  However, an alien who has felony convictions and has been deported faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the crime unlawful reentry.  I am proud to tell you that I worked with then-Senator of New York Al D’Amato in the early 1980’s to get that law enacted and it has proven to be a powerful law enforcement tool. As far as employment of illegal aliens goes, it is important to note that the prospect of securing unlawful employment is the magnet that draws the majority of illegal aliens into the United States. The reason that an employer intentionally hires illegal aliens can be summed up by one word: Greed.  Illegal aliens are vulnerable to exploitation.  This is not conjecture on my part but something I observed up close and in person when I was assigned to a squad that investigated companies that hired illegal aliens. The enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws is essential because of the widespread impact that immigration has on our nation.  While there are those who will state that immigration is solely the responsibility of the federal government, indeed only the federal government is empowered to set immigration policies. The enforcement of immigration laws that are on the books can and must be carried out by local as well as federal officials.  The former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal is remembered for famously remarking that “All politics is local.”  In point of fact, all law enforcement is also local.  When aliens run our nation’s borders or otherwise gain entry to our nation and then commit crimes in our country, those crimes are committed in cities and towns within the United States from coast to coast and border to border.  All too often those crimes have an immediate severe impact on the residents of those towns and cities. It is important to note that our immigration laws are blind as to the color, ethnicity, religion or other such factors of the people who are subject to those laws.  The only distinction immigration laws do make is to distinguish citizens of our country from those who are not citizens.  Under the immigration laws, non-citizens are referred to by a term that advocates for open borders would just as soon strike from our language: “Alien.”  There is nothing derogatory about that term and, in fact, the official definition of the term “alien” as noted in the Immigration and Nationality Act is: any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.  I defy anyone to tell me how that definition insults or denigrates anyone.  Virtually every other country on this planet uses a comparable term to describe foreign nationals who are found within their borders. Immigration laws are intended to protect our nation and our citizens from foreign nationals whose presence in our country would be harmful.  Often the folks who are most often the victims of transnational gangs are the members of the immigrant communities.  There is no valid reason to deny local police a powerful tool that can help them to more effectively protect the people they are sworn to protect in our nation’s towns, cities and states from coast to coast and border to border.

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