ICE's misleadingly-named Office of State and Local Cooperation (OSLC) has announced the next step in the Obama administration's efforts to drastically diminish the scope of immigration law enforcement. According to a draft policy document now being circulated among a limited group of stakeholders, ICE chief John Morton intends to prohibit not only his officers, but also local officers with 287(g) immigration authority, from busting illegal aliens who are discovered as a result of traffic violations.
Never mind that local patrol officers around the country routinely come across unlicensed illegal alien drivers in unsafe and/or uninsured vehicles, sometimes transporting vanloads of smuggled and illegally employed aliens with stolen identities. Forget the 9/11 terrorists, the Ft. Dix plotters, the Times Square bomber's money brokers, and the many other notorious illegal aliens who have driven our streets without fear of encountering local cops or immigration law enforcement. Don't mention that the Colorado State Patrol has eliminated (knock on wood) alien smuggling-related traffic fatalities by implementing a 287(g) program that removed illegal aliens caught driving unsafely on Colorado highways (see "The 287(g) Program: Protecting Hometowns and Homeland").
According to the draft document's cover e-mail from Ann Yom Steel, a political appointee whose mission seems to be to harass and discourage local agencies who want to help ICE and who want ICE to help them, the agency is responding to the "many concerns [of immigration law enforcement critics] related to immigration detainers, including that they could distort the state criminal process or open the window for pretextual, minor criminal charges." In other words, ICE believes the ethnic advocacy groups who accuse local cops and sheriffs of abusing their authority by trumping up traffic charges on innocent illegal aliens in order to have them deported. Therefore, all illegal aliens who violate traffic laws will get a free pass from ICE, unless they also happen to have committed other "real" crimes. The policy draft says: "Immigration officers shall not issue a detainer unless an LEA [law enforcement agency] has exercised its independent authority to arrest the alien. Immigration officers shall not issue detainers for aliens who have been temporarily detained by the LEA (i.e. roadside or Terry stops) but not arrested," although the LEA may hold them without a detainer if ICE is coming right away (don't hold your breath).
Morton has already implemented a "catch and release" policy, whereby ICE catches removable aliens in jails or through local arrests, and then releases all but the most serious offenders from custody. Making matters worse, ICE agents are now defaulting to the most time-consuming deportation process – even obviously removable aliens are routinely dumped on the overloaded immigration court dockets to await hearings before an immigration judge – instead of using the perfectly legal and more efficient administrative procedures available to them to remove an illegal alien. This means that even criminal aliens can hang around for many months after they are discovered. While in proceedings they are usually free to continue their life of crime or impaired driving, as was the case with Carlos Montano, the drunk and illegal driver who recently killed a nun in Virginia. A very large share will not bother to show up for the immigration hearing when the day finally arrives. It's no wonder that the number of aliens removed this year is noticeably lower than last year.
But this policy goes farther, stipulating that ICE will not even take a look at the illegal aliens who expose themselves to law enforcement by committing a traffic violation. And, neither will those local officers who have discovered lots of illegal aliens in the course of enforcing traffic laws.
The locals are rightly upset. For one thing, Congress never intended for ICE to micromanage the 287(g) agencies in this way. One local officer had this to say about the proposed policy: "Just as many of us suspected, the introduction of Harold Hurtt [Yom Steel's boss, the embattled ex-police chief who kept Houston as a sanctuary city until several of his officers were killed by illegal aliens] as the director of OSLC is leading to policy proposals and changes that will slowly chip away from the little power we have at a local level to try and control the influx of illegal immigrants. Soon, the administration will make so many changes, they will then claim there is no longer any need for 287(g) and we will be back to where we were years ago – with no ability to identify illegal immigrants, beyond the ineffective Secure Communities, in our jails. That will, once again, place a larger burden on our local governments and place our citizens in danger."
Ann Yom Steel is collecting comments on the proposed policy, and you can submit them to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, no later than September 30, 2010.