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EDITORIAL: Illegals — the elephant in the room

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When John McCain and Barack Obama debate tonight, there will be plenty of discussion about the economy and competing plans for large-scale government intervention to “solve” the financial crisis. The candidates will also be asked to weigh in on the Bush administration's plan to spend $250 billion of the just-passed $700 billion bailout package to expand insurance for bank deposits and purchase equity shares in U.S. banks - in effect, a partial nationalization of these financial institutions. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that the latest baby step toward socialism is good public policy and whether it is even a legitimate role for the government. While both candidates will spend considerable time discussing these matters, they are almost just as certain to ignore real problems they have failed to adequately address - such as securing the country's borders.

Mr. McCain's home county (Maricopa County, Ariz.) illustrates the danger that illegal-alien criminal activity poses to law-abiding Americans.

Phoenix Detective Phil Roberts describes his city as “ground zero for illegal narcotics and illegal human smuggling into the United States.” Statistics complied by Judicial Watch show that illegals account for 20 percent of felony DUI convictions in Maricopa County, along with one-third of drug convictions, 44 percent of forgery convictions and 85 percent of criminal impersonation or fake ID convictions. Nearly 20 percent of all convicted criminals in Maricopa County are illegal aliens and 21 percent of jail inmates there are in the United States illegally.

Similarly detailed statistics for Mr. Obama's home county (Cook County, Ill.) are unavailable. But Chicago, a sanctuary city, is unquestionably a haven for illegals.

Mark Curran, sheriff in neighboring Lake County, Ill., highlights his agency's cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and points out that politicians in Chicago and Springfield have shown little interest in cooperating with ICE. Last month, Mr. Curran released an audit showing that in August 122 of the 637 inmates in his jail were in the United States illegally and that the suspects in half of Lake County's 14 murders this past year are illegals. Common sense would suggest that figures from Cook County and the city of Chicago would be considerably higher.

Part of the reason why politicians like Messrs. McCain and Obama are able to ignore illegal immigration is the lack of useful statistical data on the problem.

Although public opinion polls show overwhelming public support for a get-tough attitude toward illegal immigration, the Washington debate is dominated by powerful lobbying organizations, including the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which favor open borders. Many elected officials (Democrats and Republicans alike) are sympathetic toward open borders, and the result is that there is virtually no interest in investigating the role of illegal aliens in the mortgage meltdown and the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But the limited information that exists does suggest there could be a connection. For example, in 15 zip codes in San Diego County, Calif., where home values fell by 40 percent in recent years, approximately 45 percent of home loans granted in 2005 and 2006 were subprime. Members of a local nonprofit housing group describe many of these homeowners as recent immigrants who do not speak English, but there is no breakdown of whether they are legal or illegal.

Most Americans understand instinctively that something is wrong. In the long run, Democrats and Republicans ignore the illegal- immigration issue at their peril.