- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A U.S. Senate hearing today considers the role of state and local police in immigration enforcement. Senators should keep foremost in mind the consequences of the government’s current practice.

Perhaps the worst practice within the U.S. government is its demoralizing message to state and local law enforcement. This horrendous de facto policy undermines respect for the rule of law and has put hundreds of thousands of criminal and illegal aliens on American streets.

Some call this the Department of Homeland Security’s “catch and release” policy. I call it “let them go.”

Every day across America, this scenario occurs: In the course of his duties, a state or local police officer encounters an illegal or criminal alien. Often, he runs across several foreign lawbreakers at once. The officer contacts federal authorities. Immigration officials tell the police officer they are not coming to take the illegal alien into custody, so let him go.

This happened in Greensburg, Pa., when local officers caught seven illegal aliens in a routine traffic checkpoint for seat-belt wearing. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were contacted, told the police to check the NCIC criminal database and hold the lawbreakers only if there was a warrant for the arrest of any of them.

No warrants had been issued for those known immigration violators. Besides, hardly any immigration offenses appear in NCIC. So police released the illegal aliens — with a friendly reminder to wear their seat belts.

On an interstate highway in Indiana, state troopers stopped a van with 15 people in it, all suspected illegal aliens. One was a drug trafficker. This time, ICE officers showed up and took them into custody, only to release them later.

The widespread problem of “let them go” was inherited from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. But INS enforcement officers developed the practice because previous administrations — Democrat and Republican — have starved the enforcement side of the house. The lion’s share of “resources” has poured into the feel-good “services” side.

Thanks to “let them go” policies, continuing even after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans face increased dangers in their streets and neighborhoods.

“Let them go” led to the rape of two nuns and the murder of another last year in Oregon. Maximiliano Silerio Esparza, a Salvadoran illegal alien, has been indicted in these crimes. Esparza had previously been caught and released by the Border Patrol, despite his prior criminal record and an outstanding arrest warrant.

Suspected serial rapist Reynaldo Elias Rapalo is a Honduran illegal criminal alien. Miami police recently arrested him in connection with seven rapes. Local police had arrested Rapalo in October 2002 for “lewd and lascivious” molestation, when he remained here on an expired visa.

These examples don’t scratch the surface to illustrate the foreseeable consequences of “let them go” policies and federal noncooperation with state and local law enforcers when our police routinely encounter immigration lawbreakers.

The math should prove the desperate need for ICE to close the loop when local law enforcement catches an illegal or criminal immigrant. ICE has just 2,000 immigration investigators to cover the entire nation. Yet at least 8 million illegal aliens remain at large.

More than 400,000 have absconded after exhausting their appeals and receiving final deportation orders. At least 80,000 have serious criminal records and should be caught and removed. Some 3,800 come from countries with terrorist ties and could be inside the United States planning the next September 11.

With nearly 700,000 state and local law-enforcement officers already on the beat, responding when they come into contact with foreign lawbreakers, holding them in custody and holding them accountable, and getting them out of this country is the common-sense solution.

This approach would apply “broken windows” policing to immigration enforcement. The “broken windows” model says that by enforcing laws against relatively minor offenses, more serious crimes will also be reduced. By going after graffiti, panhandling and prostitution, such places as New York City have used “broken windows” policing sharply to reduce violent crimes.

If ICE cooperated with and responded to state and local law enforcement when their officers routinely encounter immigration lawbreakers, more serious violations could be reduced. The run-of-the-mill illegal immigrant, if captured and held until deportation, would miss the opportunity to compound his crime. He would not get to use false documents, commit ID fraud, steal a job from an American, aid and abet a smuggling ring and the like.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee must remember that every time federal agents tell state or local police who have an illegal or criminal alien in custody to “let them go,” they are saddling those who are sworn to uphold the law with the demoralizing knowledge that they are putting lawbreakers right back on the street.

James R. Edwards Jr., coauthor of a “The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform,” is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute. This article was adapted from testimony given in October at a House Immigration Subcommittee hearing.

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