Monday, July 10, 2006

State and local police would be prohibited in key ways from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement combat illegal immigration under Senate legislation, a wall that opponents say would lead to rampant fraud, hamper efforts to deport future illegals and threaten national security.

“The Senate bill would actually make us less safe,” said Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee’s subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation. It “would roll back the ability for state and local officials to cooperate with federal officials.”

Out of deference to the confidentiality concerns of foreigners in the U.S., the bill would bar state and local police from detaining aliens simply for being in the U.S. illegally. Police could arrest the aliens only if they commit certain additional violations of federal immigration law such as marriage fraud or document counterfeiting.

“This is a time bomb that is just waiting to do a lot of damage,” former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Kris Kobach told The Washington Times yesterday. “Either it will be the damage done by terrorists in this country or it will be the damage done to our ability to control illegal immigration.”

The wall — which opponents say is similar to the one criticized by the September 11 commission for hampering efforts to prevent terrorist attacks — is getting closer attention after Mr. Royce held immigration hearings last week in California and Texas. Mr. Kobach, who served as counsel to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and now teaches at University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law, was among those who testified.

Under current law, he said, a police officer may in the course of his duties ask a suspect about his immigration status. For verification, the officer can call the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), a database in Vermont that maintains the status and identities of aliens suspected, arrested or convicted of criminal activity. If it turns out that the suspect is in the U.S. illegally, the officer may arrest the alien.

But under the Senate bill, the officer’s power to arrest would be curtailed, Mr. Kobach said. State and local police would no longer be permitted to arrest aliens for “civil” violations of federal immigration laws, such as overstaying their visas or failing to attend the classes required under their student visas.

Mr. Kobach told the House panel last week that four of the 19 September 11 hijackers had committed immigration violations and had been stopped by state and local police before the attacks. In particular, he pointed to Ziad Samir Jarrah, the Lebanese terrorist in the country on a six-month tourist visa that he had overstayed.

On Sept. 9, 2001, Jarrah was stopped going 90 mph on Interstate 95 in Maryland and given a $270 speeding ticket, which was later found in the glove compartment at the Newark airport in New Jersey, where he boarded United Flight 93.

“If the officer had asked a few questions and determined that he was illegal, he could have made the arrest,” Mr. Kobach said. “If the officer had called the Law Enforcement Support Center, which operates 24/7 out of Vermont, the officer could have concluded that he was illegal and could have made the arrest.”

Since September 11, Mr. Kobach said, the Justice Department has encouraged state and local law-enforcement agencies to step up their use of the LESC during routine police work.

The center now gets more than 500,000 calls a year. But if the Senate bill becomes law, the officer who stopped Jarrah on Sept. 9 would not be permitted to arrest him for having overstayed his tourist visa.

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