- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

In just the latest example of how far Maryland Democrats are willing to go to strengthen their political base on the left, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley are lobbying Congress to kill legislation to strengthen federal-state cooperation in enforcing U.S. immigration laws. Messrs. O’Malley and Duncan — who are expected to compete for the 2006 Democratic nomination for governor — have sent letters to federal officials urging that they kill the Clear Law Enforcement for criminal Alien Removal Act, or CLEAR (H.R. 2671), introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican.

The legislation, which has 110 cosponsors, includes provisions requiring that states and localities provide the Department of Homeland Security with information about illegal immigrants apprehended by local police in the course of their duties. The legislation provides grants to local police agencies for facilities needed to house and process them, and would eliminate some forms of federal assistance to localities that refuse to help apprehend illegals.

Mr. Norwood’s legislation addresses a serious problem: The federal agency responsible for apprehending illegal immigrants, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has just 2,000 investigators to deal with the task of catching the 8-10 million illegal immigrants already in the country. The assistance of the estimated 700,000 state and local law enforcement officers at agencies around the country could be the difference between success and failure in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. In many cases, local police have complained that when they arrest a criminal suspect who they determine to be here illegally, federal authorities refuse to take custody, and the suspect is released into the community, so long as he promises to show up for his deportation hearing. Not surprisingly, many such persons fail to do so. There are more than 300,000 of these “alien absconders” unaccounted for today.

Such practices, known as “catch and release,” are disastrous. This policy resulted in the release of Reynaldo Elias Rapalo, an illegal from Honduras who is suspected in multiple rapes in Miami. In Oregon, an illegal immigrant, convicted of raping two nuns, killing one of them, had been caught and let go by the Border Patrol.

Messrs. O’Malley and Duncan assert that the legislation would force their police departments to waste resources on immigration matters at the expense of ”genuine” law-enforcement needs. But this is a canard. Sneaking across the border (a crime in its own right) is clearly linked to a variety of other crimes, among them illegally holding a job in this country, involvement in smuggling rings, and document fraud — such as the action of the illegal alien in Virginia who helped two of the September 11 hijackers fraudulently obtain drivers licenses.

Unfortunately, by opposing the Norwood bill, Messrs. O’Malley and Duncan have chosen to put politics — in this case, ingratiating themselves with immigrant advocacy groups in the state — over public safety and the rule of law.

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