- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

In the midst of trying to secure the homeland, the interior of the United States remains woefully — and frighteningly — unsecured. This should be plain from the FBI’s recent warning that al Qaeda is recruiting within the United States, another smuggling job with tractor-trailer full of illegal aliens going bad and the number of aliens who never left after being ordered deported having grown from 314,000 last year to 389,000 today.

For all the talk about securing the borders (which we still haven’t done), the vast territory between the borders remains our nation’s soft underbelly. The missing link in this “loose and looser” situation is to apply the resources at hand: state and local police.

There’s a lot of talk about relying on “first responders,” but little action to really help our police officers do a better job against foreign lawbreakers.

Most local law enforcers and police departments already try to do their duty and go after immigration violations. But the common complaint is that they caught an illegal alien, called federal authorities and were told the feds couldn’t come get them, so let them go.

If securing the homeland is paramount, “let them go” isn’t good enough.

Untold hundreds of thousands of alien terrorists, criminals, gang members and lawbreakers of every kind live, travel and quietly undermine U.S. national and economic security within our borders every day.

Some aliens seek to kill innocent Americans. Others intend to violate our employment laws. Still others aid and abet violent offenders by providing ethnic enclaves, safe havens, fraud schemes and fake identification documents. Many provide entree to jobs in the underground economy that turn more and more occupations into so-called “jobs Americans won’t do.”

The rogues’ gallery of criminal illegal aliens has included Ingmar Guandique, the suspected killer of Chandra Levy; Lee Malvo, the suspected Washington, D.C., sniper; four homeless Mexicans accused of brutally gang-raping a woman in New York last December; and Rafael Resendez Ramirez, the serial “Railroad Killer.”

Nondescript illegal aliens should bear the blame, too. Run-of-the-mill Latin American illegal aliens helped some of the September 11, 2001, hijackers to exploit loopholes and fraudulently obtain Virginia driver’s licenses.

Without the concerted help of America’s local police officers, crime will continue to rise from these foreign lawbreakers.

Yet, the situation isn’t hopeless. About 700,000 law enforcement officers patrol every community and every road, 24 hours every day. They know their area. They can spot extraordinary people, things and behavior.

Getting the immigration authorities to be more responsive to local police should become a top priority. Cooperation must be a two-way street. So must information-sharing. Flexibility and creativity will lead to solutions to detaining, processing, transporting and rapidly deporting alien lawbreakers.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has done more than anybody in the administration to empower state and local officers. He sought their assistance in interviewing Middle Eastern aliens right after September 11. He ordered more information-sharing among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. He put more information about immigrant violators at the fingertips of local police through the National Crime Information Center database.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Ashcroft — a former governor — has reaffirmed the common-sense principle that states as sovereign entities have inherent authority to enforce the laws of the land.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) at the new Department of Homeland Security has begun to take immigration violations seriously. Its release of a list of “Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Criminal Aliens” goes in the right direction. Now DHS must rectify the multitude of problems of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service’s culture of laxity and nonresponsiveness toward state and local police.

The good news is: It can work. Law enforcers in several central Ohio counties have stepped up deportation efforts against illegal aliens they come into contact with on routine calls.

For instance, a Mexican illegal alien was charged for driving without a license in Licking County. Not only was he jailed, but immigration agents were alerted and actually responded.

The best news: Local authorities haven’t done anything different. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Deputies say their routines have not changed.” Only now, some BICE agents are doing their part.

Homeland security ultimately relies on eyes and ears — and handcuffs and jail cells — at the community level. Treating seemingly routine immigration violations as the precursor crimes they are, combined with better coordination and cooperation with state and local law enforcement, is the only way to prevent another September 11 or the ongoing terrorist attempts inside America.

James R. Edwards Jr. is coauthor of “The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform” and an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute. This article is adapted from the new Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, “Officers Need Backup.

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