- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

One of the most vital resources for law-enforcement professionals is the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which is accessed daily by 80,000 law-enforcement agencies across the United States. Unfortunately, when it comes to the enforcement of U.S. immigration law, the NCIC until now has been essentially worthless. The Bush administration has begun the process of changing this. As a result, Attorney General John Ashcroft is now facing a lawsuit from immigration advocacy groups.

Following the September 11 attacks, federal immigration officials promised that they would turn over to the FBI the names of up to 400,000 people who have disappeared to avoid deportation from the country. On Dec. 6, 2001, for example, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner James Ziglar declared that the federal government wanted to send the following message to those who have had their appeal to remain in this country heard in court and rejected: “If you don’t want to be one of the guests in a detention center while we’re getting your documents together, you might just want to go on home.”

Unfortunately, more than two years later, the federal government still has no idea where the overwhelming majority of those people, known as alien absconders, happen to be. The same is also true of deported felons (people who have completed their sentences, been deported to their country of origin and illegally returned to the United States) and people from some predominantly Muslim countries who failed to register with the federal government.

Mr. Ashcroft wants to reform this sorry situation. For example, he has begun entering the names of the absconders into the NCIC database. To date, just 15,000 of the 300,000 to 400,000 names have been entered. And the attorney general says that the special registration plan has resulted in the detention of eight suspected terrorists, including a known al Qaeda member.

But this doesn’t sit well with groups like the National Council of La Raza, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Latin American Workers Project and the New York Immigration Coalition and Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which recently filed suit in U.S. District Court, questioning Mr. Ashcroft’s authority to enlist state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Raul Yzaguirre, president and chief executive officer of La Raza, complains that giving state and local law enforcement the authority to make arrests undermines public safety and “diverts law enforcement resources from other policing priorities.”

Mr. Yzaguirre has it completely wrong. Illegally crossing the border is a crime in its own right and is linked to a variety of other crimes, which include illegally holding a job in this country, as well as smuggling and document fraud (witness the illegal immigrant in Virginia who helped two of the September 11 hijackers). Still other illegal immigrants include Rafael Resendiz Ramirez, the convicted “Railway Killer” who murdered numerous people during a crime spree in the late 1990s.

Mr. Ashcroft has taken some small steps in the right direction by entering the names of such people into the NCIC database, but much more needs to be done to secure our borders. Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, has put forward a sensible proposal, the Clear Law Enforcement for Alien Removal Act, or CLEAR, which has 112 co-sponsors in the House. The CLEAR bill would facilitate greater cooperation between the federal government and state and local governments, and include provisions requiring that the latter provide the Department of Homeland Security with information about illegal immigrants that police capture during the course of their duties. It would also require that all absconders are included in the NCIC — a step that should have been taken years ago. In the meantime, the La Raza lawsuit against Mr. Ashcroft should be dismissed.

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