About 80,000 illegal criminal aliens, including convicted murderers, rapists, drug dealers and child molesters who served prison time and were released, are loose on the streets of America, hiding from federal immigration authorities.
Despite the creation of a new agency to hunt down criminal aliens and the infusion of millions of dollars to get the job done, many state and local police agencies who make contact with the aliens either never learn of their immigration status or never advise the federal government of their release.
According to figures for 2002 from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), more than 375,000 known illegal aliens have been ordered deported, but have disappeared pending immigration hearings. Washington-area sniper Lee Boyd Malvo was one such alien.
About 80,000 of those people, called “absconders,” already had been convicted and served prison time for felonies, ICE and INS say.
“Keeping our law-enforcement officers in the dark doesn’t make America’s streets safer for anyone,” said Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican. “At a time when our officers are faced with arresting and re-arresting the same 80,000 criminal aliens over and over again, we should be giving them greater access to data and more resources.”
Making matters more difficult for federal authorities are several municipalities that have passed ordinances prohibiting their employees, including police officers, from enforcing federal immigration laws.
Known as “sanctuary laws,” the ordinances are in place in varying degree in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston.
Immigration opponents argue that the laws encourage illegal immigration. Some, including the District-based Federation of American Immigration Reform, have charged that sanctuary laws offer shelter for would-be terrorists by allowing illegal immigrants to establish themselves as residents.
The Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement (FILE), also based in the District, has begun to bring lawsuits against those municipalities with sanctuary ordinances and has promised additional legal challenges.
FILE has argued that state and county governments are prohibited from adopting policies that prevent its employees from contacting federal immigration authorities about the legal status of any noncitizen or to report violations of U.S. immigration law by any noncitizen.
“These policies, called ‘sanctuary policies,’ promise foreign nationals who have broken our laws that the municipality in which they live will help them in their lawbreaking by resisting efforts to report them to the proper authorities,” FILE said in a statement.
“Such policies are illegal, naturally, and have been rejected by the courts. Nevertheless, some cities, remarkably, persist in maintaining their illegal sanctuary policies,” FILE said. “Unfortunately, the executive branch of the federal government has been for many years utterly derelict in forcing, as is its duty, municipalities to abide by the law.”
The National Council of La Raza has defended sanctuary laws, saying that collaboration between federal authorities and state and local municipalities is contrary to U.S. case law and that it results in racial profiling, police misconduct and civil rights violations.
La Raza also charges that it undermines community policing efforts and that it undercuts effective law-enforcement and antiterrorism efforts by diverting resources and leading to additional litigation.
Mr. Norwood has introduced the Clear Law Enforcement for Alien Removal Act that would, among other things, give state and local police agencies authority to enforce immigration laws.
The pending bill, with 112 co-sponsors of both parties, also would grant state and local police agencies access to the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) database for immigration status information.
Last month, several pro-immigration and civil rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the government from entering immigration information into NCIC, saying the data was being misused in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Filed in U.S. District Court in New York, the suit said the Justice Department unlawfully entered immigration information into NCIC subjecting immigrants to the risk of unlawful arrest by state and local police.
The suit also questioned the authority of Attorney General John Ashcroft to enlist state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The suit was filed by La Raza, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Latin American Workers Project, New York Immigration Coalition, and Union of Needletrades and Industrial and Textile Employees.
The NCIC database — which includes more than 40 million felons, fugitives and others being sought by federal law enforcement — was expanded after the September 11 attacks to include immigrant criminals who failed to show up for their deportation hearings.
It also includes thousands of immigrants who registered with the government under the “special registration” program, which requires that foreign visitors from designated countries register when they enter the United States. NCIC is used by 80,000 law-enforcement agencies across the country.
Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, the investigative arm of Homeland Security, has promised a vigorous enforcement effort for criminal aliens now in the country, including a $10 million effort to fund eight new teams of agents to apprehend and deport aliens convicted of crimes in the United States.
The new teams, which join eight already in operation, will be based in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington state.