The Campaign to Protect Our Illegal Alien Criminals

The ongoing campaign by the illegal-alien lobby to block the deportation even of illegal-alien criminals is the lobby’s most unfathomable activity. It is also a reminder of the strength of its commitment to the evisceration of the immigration rule of law. As the Obama administration and the lame-duck Congress push for a partial amnesty, the background campaign against deporting criminal aliens reminds us that such intermediate measures as the DREAM Act belong to a larger agenda of destroying all existing penalties for illegal entry and presence.

For years, illegal-alien advocates have opposed any cooperation between local jail and prison officials, on the one hand, and federal immigration authorities, on the other, that could result in the detection and possible deportation of illegal-alien inmates. The ground of this opposition is rarely stated. Occasionally the advocates recycle the hoary argument that underlies sanctuary laws (those local ordinances which ban information sharing between all local government officials, especially the police, and ICE): That illegal-alien crime victims and witnesses will fail to cooperate with a police investigation if they think that their immigration status will be disclosed to ICE. The New York Times recently blasted jailhouse programs to identify illegal-alien inmates for “undermining . . . public safety.”

There is a reason why this argument is rarely trotted out: It is ludicrous. The illegal alien in jail isn’t a crime victim or witness; he’s a perp, and he’s already been apprehended.

So that leaves only one argument against deporting illegal-alien criminals: that the dearth of illegal aliens in the country is so severe that even those who have committed crimes must be shielded from detection. This argument remains implicit, but it is logically unavoidable. The standard rap against ICE’s Secure Communities program, which checks jail inmates’ fingerprints against ICE’s databases, is that it “could ensnare immigrants who have committed low-level offenses.” So? An alien commits a crime by sneaking across the border illegally, then commits another crime — say, driving drunk, or dealing drugs — and he should be protected against deportation? The only reason for doing so must be to ensure that we don’t lose even a single illegal alien to his home country, even if he’s violating additional criminal laws.

The Obama administration touts its deportations under Secure Communities (the jail-ICE database-checking program) as proof that it cares about the immigration rule of law. In the first nine months of fiscal year 2010, 137,000 criminal aliens were deported, part of a 10 percent increase in total deportations over the same period in the last fiscal year of the Bush administration. But a recent study by an anti-incarceration, pro-illegal-immigration group shows how modest that number is compared with the number of potential criminal deportees. Of the 1,215 aliens held in New York City’s Rikers Island jail in 2008 whose top offense was a drug violation, ICE sought detainers only on 45 percent. (These detainers were not initiated under Secure Communities, but under a prior agreement between the feds and New York corrections officials.) A detainer means that federal immigration authorities are considering deportation proceedings against an inmate, and thus that the local jail should not release the inmate back into the general population. So 55 percent of illegal-alien drug dealers in Rikers were simply released back into the city without ICE intervention. Naturally, the illegal-alien lobby, including members of the New York City Council, thinks that that number is too low. And their campaign allows sanctuary-law supporters like the Bloomberg mayoral administration in New York to present themselves as tough on immigration violations. From the New York Times coverage of the study:

“We’ve learned how critically important it is to both public safety and national security to ensure that government agencies work together to connect the dots,” said John Feinblatt, [Mayor Bloomberg’s] chief policy adviser. “Yet some apparently believe that immigrants suspected of being here illegally should get a special get-out-of-jail-free card even when there are legitimate concerns about the risks they may pose.”

Note the exquisite qualifications. Feinblatt believes in allowing the feds access to illegal-alien criminals when there are “legitimate” concerns about the “risks” they pose. In other words, absent those risks and absent the legitimacy of those concerns about the risks, anyone else, including criminals with lesser charges against them, should be of little or no interest to the feds. This distinction between a legitimate and an illegitimate ground for deporting an illegal alien is the Obama administration’s position, as well.

Earlier this week, the New York Times editorialized that any House Republican effort to increase immigration enforcement over the next two years will do “profound damage to the rule of law.” Such Orwellian manipulation of words is of a piece with the Campaign to Protect Our Illegal Alien Criminals. Both show that the illegal-alien lobby aims for an immigration policy determined exclusively by people living outside America’s borders. 

Heather Mac Donald — Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops