The senseless murder of Kate Steinle by an illegal alien with seven prior felony convictions and five deportations has focused public attention on the problems created when local sanctuary policies prioritize protecting illegal alien residents over the public interest.
Immigration laws are not obsolete relics that are unworthy of enforcement; they are crucial to preserving jobs and security for Americans. Sanctuary policies are especially harmful when they are imposed by local law enforcement agencies. When criminal aliens are released back to the street instead of removed to their home country, they have the opportunity to continue preying on the community, creating needless new victims.
The Steinle episode was not an isolated incident. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2014, more than 8,100 immigrant offenders who were sought by ICE in sanctuary jurisdictions were released instead of turned over for deportation. Just in this eight-month period, approximately 1,900 of these deportable convicts re-offended 4,300 more times, racking up 7,500 new charges. The subsequent crimes included murder, sexual assault on young children, violent rape, burglary, assault, dangerous drug offenses and drunken driving. More than 1,000 are still at large in our communities.
Some will argue over whether immigrants commit more or less crimes than Americans (there’s no solid evidence either way). That’s irrelevant; the more important policy issue at hand here is how we handle those immigrants who have committed crimes. ICE agents do not patrol the streets looking for illegal aliens; they depend on local officers to find out about those who are committing crimes. If local officers will not turn over illegal aliens who have already been arrested for something else, that means ICE agents have to go get them where they live and work — a much more resource-intensive process that also puts the agents and the public at risk if something goes wrong.
Others insist that sanctuary policies are needed so that immigrants will not be afraid to report crimes. This is a myth spread by illegal alien advocacy groups that has no basis in reality. The claim has been refuted in numerous studies, including a 2009 analysis by the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum, which found no decline in crime reporting by Hispanics after the implementation of a tough local enforcement program.
Sanctuary policies do nothing to build trust between immigrants and police. They do not improve access to law enforcement services; that is better accomplished with anonymous tip lines and officers who speak the languages of the community. On the contrary, sanctuary policies destroy the larger public trust that the laws will be faithfully enforced to preserve the quality of life for all.
The Obama administration has made it clear that it will not act against sanctuary jurisdictions. Instead, the president has moved to make the whole country a sanctuary by giving work permits to illegal aliens and drastically scaling back enforcement for all but the most egregious criminal offenders. And, he terminated perhaps the most effective enforcement program ever (Secure Communities) and replaced it with a new program that explicitly allows localities to obstruct ICE.
Therefore it is up to Congress and state lawmakers to take prompt action against sanctuaries. States can enact laws prohibiting sanctuary policies and direct agencies to notify ICE when they are aware of deportable offenders.
Congress must clarify that sanctuary policies are not only unwise but contrary to law. They need to specify that local agencies must not obstruct, but assist when ICE seeks custody of a deportable offender, and provide legal protection to local officers who assist in enforcement. In addition, those state and local governments that persist in sanctuary policies must be barred from receiving federal homeland security and law enforcement funding.
Lawmakers should reject proposals, like a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley R-Iowa, that mirrors many local sanctuary policies, that spell out the specific crimes that trigger cooperation for enforcement. Such micromanagement sends the message that all other illegal aliens are to be tolerated.
The most comprehensive solution to both the sanctuaries and the Obama administration’s dismantling of enforcement can be found in South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Davis Oliver Act, which was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in March. This bill gives ICE and local governments the tools for effective enforcement. It has been endorsed by the National Sheriffs Association and many individual law enforcement leaders. Congress should join them in supporting these efforts to reverse our slide into “Sanctuary Nation.”