I agree with Heather Mac Donald that the administration's decision to expand immigration checks to all jails is a positive development that needs watching. But I have two concerns that Heather didn't touch on.
First, the move is obviously intended to strengthen the administration's hand in making the political case for amnesty. In other words, it will be presented as proof that they're serious about enforcement and so can be trusted to administer an amnesty responsibly and to enforce the law in the future, so we don't have another 12 million illegals a few years down the road. This is not, of course, a reason to be against this move; we need to be able to take yes for an answer. That said, the program will take a number of years to roll out — the end of 2012, by their own timeline, and probably even longer, given the speedbumps that any large program will inevitably encounter. So, as with other important enforcement initiatives, this needs to be fully implemented and functioning before we even start debating amnesty. (BTW, if this intel from the border is accurate, close to half the claimed border fencing that's been completed isn't really fencing at all, just bollards to slow smuggling vehicles, so there's a lot more to do there too.) Or, as Marco Rubio told National Review Online recently, "We've got to secure the borders in our existing system first before we can even begin to have a conversation about the other elements of immigration."
Secondly, as useful as jail screening for illegals is, it represents after-the-fact enforcement, rather than the kind of broken-windows policing we need on immigration. Frankly, screening for illegals in jail should go without saying, but it doesn't do anything to end impunity and restore order to our immigration system overall. For that you also need to do worksite enforcement, including at least occasional raids (something this administration has ended), as well as prosecute immigration and visa fraud, identity theft, etc. Otherwise, you're just repeating the NYPD's experience in the 1970s: chasing after rapists and murderers but ignoring turnstile jumping and public urination, with the result that you never manage to restore public order.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out Rapid REPAT Anyone? and Jessica Vaughan's testimony on criminal aliens.