The Trump administration can't arrest its way out of our immigration problem

The Trump administration can’t arrest its way out of our immigration problem

Originally published by LA Times

State and local governments in California rightly recognize that it's up to the federal government to determine which people living in the country illegally ought to be tracked down and deported. It's no more the responsibility of the Los Angeles Police Department to run immigrants to ground than it is for them to sniff out people cheating on their federal income taxes.

There is an important public safety reason for keeping local police and sheriff's deputies out of the deportation business. If people who are living in the country illegally come to view local law enforcement officers — whose duty is to maintain the peace and enforce criminal codes — as just another set of immigration agents, they will be far less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigators. In Los Angeles alone, Police Chief Charlie Beck said last yearthat fewer Latinos in the city were reporting rapes, spousal abuse and other crimes for fear of being deported under the Trump administration's policy of stepped-up arrests.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has made no secret of its disdain for state and local governments that refuse to use their own resources to help Washington enforce federal immigration law. Twice this month, top officials — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan — said they have asked the Justice Department for an opinion on whether local officials who don't report residents who are in the country illegally can be charged with violating the federal laws on harboring. Homan also has warned that he will "significantly increase our enforcement presence in California" to ramp up arrests in neighborhoods and on streets as a payback for the California Values Act (the "sanctuary state" law adopted last year), which denied ICE agents access to jails unless they have a warrant. "California better hold on tight," he said in a Fox News interview. "They're about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the state of California."

That's not enforcing immigration law. That's coercion by the federal government to try to compel local officials to, in effect, do their jobs for them. It is also the kind of thuggishness we'd expect from someone like Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not the president of the United States.

Homan also argued that without the cooperation of local law enforcement, "violent criminal aliens" are being released back onto the streets rather than being deported. "If the politicians in California don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will," Homan said.

That's preposterous. ICE has access to databases that reveal who is incarcerated and when they are scheduled for release. If "violent criminal aliens" reenter their communities, it's because ICE failed to identify them while in custody and pick them up upon release from prison or jail.

Now comes word that ICE may be planning a massive sweep in Northern California targeting as many as 1,500 immigrants, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That would be little more than showboating. According to the best estimates, California has about 2.35 million immigrants who are living in the state illegally. No matter how hard he tries, Homan is not going to arrest away that problem. Rather, such draconian enforcement actions — and have no doubt, the impetus comes from President Trump — will do little more than disrupt families and communities.

Just this week, the government deported Jorge Garcia, 39, who was living in the country illegally but was otherwise a productive and law-abiding member of the community. For years, the federal government had exercised prosecutorial discretion not to enforce a deportation order against him. Garcia arrived in the U.S. as a 10-year-old, grew up in the Detroit area and is married to an American citizen with whom he has two American children. What possible good comes from breaking apart that family?

It's deplorable that the government is pursuing such a heartless and heavy-handed approach to enforcing immigration laws in service of a system that is hopelessly broken. A wise president would pursue truly dangerous immigrants who are here illegally, find ways to keep new arrivals out (and ensure visa holders leave when they are supposed to) and work with Congress for a humane resolution to the fate of more than 11 million people who have lived in the U.S. for, on average, more than a decade. But wisdom and this president are opposing forces.

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