Leveling the Playing Field

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 22, 2017

On Thursday, May 18, the House Judiciary Committee began the mark-up of the "Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act" (Davis-Oliver) (H.R. 2431), which was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho. As Rep. Labrador, the Vice Chairman of the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, explained it in his press release introducing that bill:

The bill improves the enforcement of immigration laws to enhance public safety, adds tools to crack down on dangerous sanctuary city policies and contains needed changes to protect American communities from unlawful immigrants who commit crimes in the United States.

The Davis-Oliver Act protects national security by improving our nation's first line of defense, the visa issuance process. It provides thorough screening of foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States in order to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. The bill also ensures the rule of law and removes the ability of any President to unilaterally shut down immigration enforcement by granting states and localities the authority to enforce their own immigration laws consistent with federal practices.

The bill takes its name from two California officers, Placer County Detective Michael Davis, Jr., and Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver. Detective Davis and Deputy Sheriff Oliver were shot to death in October 2014; Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte, an alien who was in the United States illegally after having been arrested and deported in 1997 for narcotics dealing, and again in May 2001 following an arrest on drug and weapons charges in Arizona (which were dismissed), has been charged in those killings.

The bill, which is 184 pages long with 70 different sections, contains many crucial amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act that will, as House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte stated in the press release, "enhance the safety of our communities."

One specific provision, however, that was the subject of particular criticism from members of the committee who expressed opposition to the bill, will also help level the playing field for ICE officers tasked with apprehending fugitive aliens.

Title V of Davis-Oliver is captioned "Aid to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers". It calls for additional ICE detention enforcement officers, staff, and trial attorneys; establishes an ICE advisory council to provide feedback to Congress and the secretary of Homeland Security on immigration-enforcement and officer-security issues; and establishes a pilot project for electronic field processing of immigration charging documents and detainers. Most importantly, however, it requires DHS to provide ICE officers with the equipment that they need to perform their duties and to return to their families safely.

Section 503 of Davis-Oliver, captioned "Ensuring the Safety of ICE Officers," states, in pertinent part:

(a) Body Armor.—The Secretary of Homeland Security shall ensure that every U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officer on duty is issued high-quality body armor that is appropriate for the climate and risks faced by the agent. Enough body armor must be purchased to cover every agent in the field.

(b) Weapons.—Such Secretary shall ensure that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officers are equipped with weapons that are reliable and effective to protect themselves, their fellow agents, and innocent third parties from the threats posed by armed criminals. Such weapons shall include, at a minimum, standard-issue handguns, M–4 (or equivalent) rifles, and Tasers.

(c) Special Training For High-Risk Enforcement Operations.—Such Secretary shall provide appropriate training and certification to selected U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officers, at each field office, to conduct high-risk enforcement operations requiring enhanced tactical capabilities effectively to combat known dangers, to assist in high-risk transports, or to participate in other special assignments as designated by the Secretary and consistent with law, except that nothing in this subsection shall be construed to impose a requirement that such training be completed, or such certification be obtained, in order to participate in such a high-risk enforcement operation.

Committee opponents of the bill questioned why ICE agents would need "assault weapons" to do their jobs. According to Military.com:

The M4/M4A1 5.56mm Carbine is a lightweight, gas operated, air cooled, magazine fed, selective rate, shoulder fired weapon with a collapsible stock. It is now the standard issue firearm for most units in the U.S. military.

Equipped with a shorter barrel, collapsible stock and detachable carrying handle (with a built-in accessory rail) it provides soldiers operating in close quarters with improved handling and the capability to rapidly and accurately engage targets at extended range, day or night.

The official website of the Los Angeles Police Department shows that the M-4 is a weapon that is issued to its officers, and the NYPD bought 450 of them in late 2015. Unfortunately, sanctuary-city policies now make it necessary for ICE agents and officers to be issued such equipment.

As my colleague Jessica Vaughan has detailed, so-called "sanctuary" cities, counties, and states have been proliferating in recent years. Sanctuary jurisdictions:

[H]ave laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.

In addition to the intent of these laws, the other thing that they have in common is that they make it more difficult, and dangerous, for ICE officers to do their jobs.

Take, for example, a recent letter that was sent by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly complaining "about reports from some of [California's] trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests." In that letter, she "respectfully request[s] that [Sessions and Kelly] refrain from this sort of enforcement in California's courthouses," contending that "enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair."

While one could question the propriety of a state-court justice sending such a letter, two salient points stick out: that Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wants ICE officers to apprehend the aliens they are seeking somewhere other than the California courts, and that "the vast majority of [undocumented immigrants] pose no risk to public safety."

The second point may be true to a certain degree, but its logic is undermined somewhat by the fact that ICE officers were searching for the undocumented immigrants she references in courthouses, suggesting criminal involvement on the part of some of those aliens. This bears directly on the first point.

If ICE officers are unable to arrest aliens whom they are seeking in "controlled" environments where weapons are prohibited and those aliens are known to be (such as jails and courthouses), they will need to either arrest those aliens in public (for example at their places of business), or track them down at their homes. Attempting an arrest these situations, however, poses a danger to the officer, the alien, and the public at large, as Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Kelly explained in response to Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye:

Some jurisdictions, including the State of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests. Such policies threaten public safety, rather than enhance it. As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities where the risk of injury to the public, the alien, and the officer is significantly increased because the alien can more readily access a weapon, resist arrest, or flee. Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased.

Consider the danger to ICE officers in the most uncontrolled environment, the alien's home, where flight is easy and weapons could be hidden. If the officer cannot see inside the house, he or she has no idea what is waiting on the other side of the door. An alien may be armed or could try to forcibly flee, possibly assisted by others.

Every year, there are numerous reports of officers who are killed and wounded in such incidents. For example, on November 18, 2016, "a 26-year veteran of the [U.S.] Marshals Service and deputy commander of the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force" was shot and killed "while trying to serve an arrest warrant" by the subject of that warrant in Georgia. On September 29, 2016, two officers were shot serving an arrest warrant in Kingman, Arizona. In that incident:

Body cam footage provided by the City of Kingman show[ed] the officers arriving in tactical gear and the suspect inside the house holding a gun at his side.

The officers yelled "Drop the gun" several times. The suspect is seen raising the gun to shoot, with officers returning fire as the video ends.

In a November 20, 2008, incident that shocked the nation, FBI Agent Samuel Hicks was killed in Indiana Township, Pa., "during a raid on the home of a suspected cocaine dealer, who was taken into custody along with his wife."

Situations like these require officers to be appropriately armed to respond to any situation. In most instances, those sought will submit to arrest simply by a show of appropriate credentials. Where wanted individuals believe that a resort to force would be effective, however, officers need to be prepared to respond appropriately, both to effect the arrest and (more importantly) to protect other members of the public from a potential deadly situation.

This is not to say, however, that ICE officers will (or should) regularly walk the streets brandishing M-4 rifles. Officers should assess, before any operation, what additional weapons (aside from the side arms they normally carry) they would need in a given situation. At all other times, those firearms should be properly secured in a weapons room or armory. When needed, however, an M-4 rifle (or its equivalent) would itself deter most violent responses. If a suspect opts to respond to an arrest attempt with force, however, it is essential that ICE agents not be "outgunned".

While sanctuary policies put ICE officers in a position where such weapons are necessary, many of those who promote such policies also assert that ICE officers should not be given so-called "assault weapons". Unfortunately, violent encounters at residences and public places are the inevitable result of policies that prevent local police from communicating with ICE, local jails from honoring detainers, and state-court judges from denying access to courthouses to federal officers. The law will be enforced, regardless of whether local and state politicians (and justices) like that law or not. To promote sanctuary policies, and then deny the officers charged with enforcing the law the equipment that they need to protect themselves and the public at large, is to neglect one's moral duty and civic responsibilities.

The Judiciary Committee should report Davis-Oliver favorably, the House and Senate should pass it, and the president should sign it into law. If that happens, tragedies like what happened to Detective Michael Davis, Jr. and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver could be prevented in the future.