Sanctuary Policies Finance Crime and Death, Here and Abroad

The consequences of living in a bubble

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 20, 2017

Probably the strongest argument against sanctuary cities, lax credible-fear standards for asylum, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, and paid counsel in removal proceedings is the fact that each of these programs encourages aliens (and especially women and families) to enter illegally, which usually requires that they put their lives in the hands of smugglers.

Anything that promotes recourse to smugglers is a bad thing, because smugglers are, simply put, bad people. They are really just in it for the money, and have very little concern for the lives, safety, or well-being of their "customers". As importantly, however, money paid to smugglers often makes its way to the very groups whose violent activities abroad have spurred the exodus of those aliens. That money also helps finance those groups in spreading misery and death in the United States.

A recent report underscores these facts.

The report, titled "Human smuggling equals great danger, big money", was recently issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In that report, ICE explains the "business side" of alien smuggling:

Human smuggling operates as a contract business; an understanding exists among transnational criminal organizations [TCOs], smugglers and individuals seeking transport that trying to cross the border independently is not an option. Smugglers escort the illegal aliens through the desert, across the border, to stash houses and onto their final destinations within the interior of the U.S. A portion of the smuggling fees paid to the [TCOs] helps fuel their other criminal enterprises. (Emphasis added.)

Who are these TCOs, and what are "their other criminal enterprises"? Among the TCOs identified by the Treasury Department are Los Zetas and MS-13. Treasury states that:

MS-13 consists of at least 30,000 members in a range of countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and is one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 is active within the United States, with at least 8,000 members operating in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. MS-13's criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, "Mata, roba, viola, controla" ("Kill, steal, rape, control"). Domestically, the group is involved in multiple crimes including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking and human trafficking including prostitution. The group frequently carries out violent attacks on opposing gang members, often injuring innocent bystanders. MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States.

Local MS-13 cliques take direction from the group's foreign leadership for strategic decisions involving moves into new territories and efforts to recruit new members. Money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the U.S. is consolidated and funneled to the group's leadership in El Salvador. (Emphasis added.)

Treasury describes Los Zetas as follows:

Formerly the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas is an extremely violent transnational criminal organization based primarily in Mexico. The organization is estimated to have thousands of members in Mexico, Central America and the United States. Los Zetas facilitates drug trafficking into the United States and has relationships with U.S.-based gangs. Los Zetas is specifically responsible for the safe passage of large quantities of illegal narcotics, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana moving through Mexico and eventually into the United States. In addition to drug trafficking, Los Zetas is involved in extortion, money laundering, intellectual property theft and human smuggling. Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel members together are named in multiple indictments in Federal District courts for violating U.S. narcotics laws. These indictments allege that Los Zetas has carried out numerous acts of violence, including murders, kidnappings and tortures.

Los Zetas members are responsible for mass murders in Mexico and Guatemala, and have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to intimidate and brazenly kill law enforcement and other government personnel. In February 2011, Los Zetas members ambushed and killed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata and seriously wounded ICE Agent Victor Avila. In April 2011, Mexico's Office of the Attorney General announced the arrest of Los Zetas cell leaders connected to the discovery of nearly 200 bodies dumped in mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The victims were kidnapped from passenger buses traveling toward the U.S.-Mexico border. In May 2011, Los Zetas members stormed a ranch in northern Guatemala and killed 27 people and later killed the Guatemalan prosecutor involved in the investigation of the murders. (Emphasis added.)

As immigration judge, I heard hundreds of asylum claims from aliens from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. Many if not most involved these two groups, or their criminal rivals.

The vast majority of the claims from the former three countries involved some threat from MS-13. For example, young men would allege that the gang attempted to recruit them, or targeted them because of their religious faith, or sought to extort money from them. Young women would allege that gang members attempted to forcibly recruit them as "girlfriends" for the gang members, or alternatively, had tried to abuse them sexually. Mothers would assert that their efforts to protect their children from the predations of gang members placed their own lives in danger. Some applicants would claim that they had incidentally run afoul of the gang, a specific member, or a leader, and therefore their lives were in danger.

Similar claims were made about Los Zetas by Mexican nationals. Mexican asylum applicants also claimed that this TCO (or one of its rivals) was attempting to forcibly seize family property (generally farms) to use for illicit purposes such as drug cultivation, or attempted to force the applicant to smuggle drugs or other contraband to the United States. A smaller subset of claims alleged that the applicant had been a witness to one of Los Zetas crimes or to its criminal operations, and that the TCO sought to kill the applicant in order to silence him or her.

The ICE report also detailed the dangers that smuggled aliens face:

They often find themselves at risk for assault and abuse such as rape, beatings, kidnapping and robbery. Smugglers regularly overcrowd living and sleeping accommodations, and withhold food and water. In addition, individuals who are smuggled may be forced into human trafficking situations upon their arrival in the U.S. or their families may be extorted. Even knowing these dangers, the majority of people who travel with a smuggling organization do so voluntarily.

I've just finished reading a November 15, 2017, decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, The City of Philadelphia v. Sessions, which addressed (and largely rebuffed) efforts by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to deny $1.6 million in funding to that city because of its refusal to cooperate with ICE. With all due respect to the judge who issued that decision, and the city of Philadelphia, the facts above seem lost on them.

Each treats that municipality like a bubble, and the aliens unlawfully present in that city as living under the protection of that bubble. Most significantly, each operates under an apparent notion that the illegal aliens in that city fall into two categories: nonimmigrants who entered lawfully and overstayed, and aliens who did not comply with legal entry procedures but who have made their way to that city.

Neither the city, nor the court for that matter, appears to have given any thought to the process by which the latter group of aliens entered illegally. More importantly, however, each failed to consider the "downstream" consequences of that illegal entry, as described above.

This is not to target either the city or the court for particular blame; every "sanctuary jurisdiction" (whenever its policies) either through ignorance or "willful blindness" overlooks or pays no attention to the fact that money given to smugglers pays for human misery, and the destabilization of democratic institutions in the very countries from which those aliens hail. It also ignores the fact that smuggling money helps finance the illegal drug trade.

In May 2015, I went to the border and met with Mexican government officers who had to deal locally with the mess that such "well-meaning" American government officials have helped to create.

On the streets of Philadelphia, police officers wear white or blue blouses, dark pants, and eight-point hats (including an optional mesh version for summer wear). They are issued Kevlar vests and helmets; the vests must be worn with limited exceptions, but the standard headwear is the aforementioned hat. They drive Fords, Chevy, or Dodge sedans, or the occasional SUV, white, with a blue and gold stripe. They generally present a welcoming and protective image.

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, which sits across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, however, the police situation is very different. According to the Department of State:

The municipal police force ... was disbanded due to deep-rooted corruption, lack of professionalism, and capacity.

A state police force (Fuerza Tamaulipas) began deploying to Matamoros in late 2014 but has faced serious recruitment and retention deficits. The force is estimated at one-third the size needed to police the state.

The Mexican Army (SEDENA) and the Mexican Marines (SEMAR) are used to combat organized crime across Mexico. The military operates checkpoints at the ports of entry and patrols throughout the city providing basic security functions.

When I was there, SEMAR troops wearing black helmets with BDUs and full body armor, and armed with automatic weapons, were a common sight. They rode the streets of the city standing in the back of matte black pickup trucks, their weapons at the ready.

The view of the local populace in Matamoros toward the police is different from that in Philadelphia, as well. As State describes the security situation that city:

Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. The net result is that most crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. Generally, police receive low wages, are vulnerable to corruption, and receive less training than their U.S. counterparts. Police enjoy little respect from the general population.

And the source of that corruption? It is largely driven by TCOs:

Mexico is well-known for its illegal drug trade and the violence/corruption fostered by the industry. Mexico is the primary route for illegal drugs into the U.S. Matamoros, and the surrounding areas, have been the scene of many violent, uncontrolled incidents in which innocent bystanders have been injured/killed. Security forces and police have not been effective in eliminating the threat in the cities along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Gun battles may occur at any time, as rival TCO gunmen engage in hit-and-run attacks, and as military and federal police encounter TCO gunmen while on patrol. In an effort to prevent the military from responding to criminal activity, TCOs have set up roadblocks or "narco-blockades" in various parts of Matamoros, Reynosa, and Ciudad Victoria. At these blockades, armed gunmen have carjacked unsuspecting drivers (usually buses and commercial trucks) and used their vehicles to block-off roads or have spiked the road with tire-puncturing projectiles. Since the escalation in TCO violence began, the government has significantly increased the number of troops and federal police in this region in an effort to quell the violence. These numbers constantly change due to the security environment elsewhere in Mexico. Military and federal police frequently conduct patrols throughout the city.

In Philadelphia, there are many sites for tourists to see. Independence National Historical Park ("The birthplace of American democracy"), The Liberty Bell Center ("Dramatic home of the internationally known symbol of freedom"), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art ("Third-largest art museum in the country and a must-see attraction") are all popular stops, but there are many more. Reading Terminal Market ("America's oldest farmers' market") is full of food stalls, with a smattering of restaurants and lunch counters. I always get the Roast Pork Sandwich at Tommy DiNic's, with provolone and broccoli rabe, washed down with a Mint-Lemon-Rosewater Lemonada at Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties, but you could also try the Roast Duck & Roasted Pork Noodle Platter at Sang Kee Peking Duck House.

I would not, however, recommend scheduling your next vacation in Matamoros. As the State Department warns Americans:

TCOs maintain a system of lookouts (halcones). Visitors can expect to be watched or even challenged about their business in the Consular District. Be unpredictable in your movements; vary your routes and departure/arrival times. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

As a congressional staffer, I traveled with State Department escort in an armored vehicle with bulletproof glass through Matamoros. I hadn't eaten for several hours before I got to the city, and although there was a taco shack across the street from the site of the future U.S. consulate (which I was visiting), my handlers would not allow me to get a taco or even chips from that shack. Nor could I even jump out of the SUV to grab a street corn: The risk of violence was too great.

With the right club, you could hit a golf ball from the streets of Matamoros to Texas, but they are a world away from each other. Matamoros lives in a "bubble" as well, I guess. But it is one that has been constructed by TCOs, with the shortsighted and unwitting assistance of local and state politicians in the United States.

That said, the "Philadelphia bubble" and the "Matamoros bubble" do have one thing in common, the thing those Mexican officers blamed for the violence they had to combat: illegal drugs.

In his decision, the district court judge notes that:

The City is planning to use the [Federal] grant [money] to pay overtime for officers, fund police officer training regarding use of force, and buy Narcan (also known as Naloxone), a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses, for Philadelphia police officers to administer.

Underscoring this point, the judge found:

Denial of the ... grant for FY 2017 would result in irreparable harm. The testimony shows that this money constitutes 10% of Philadelphia Police budget for non-personnel uses, and this would make a substantial inroad on City programs which have depended on the ... grants in prior years. Denial will deter crime prevention efforts, and also public health efforts, such as fighting the opioid epidemic.

According to the city of Philadelphia, 907 people died of drug overdoses last year. "Deaths involving heroin reached an all-time high, eclipsing 400 for the first time ever, and contributing to nearly half of the city's overdose deaths." The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported in 2015 that its National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) had "found that Mexican [TCOs] are the biggest criminal drug threat to the United States, and are the primary suppliers of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana."

Put another way, the seeds of Philly's drug crime and deaths are sown in Mexican fields by the TCOs whose operations are financed, in part, by the smugglers of the aliens who were drawn to the United States (in part) by the promise that once they were in a city that refuses full cooperation with ICE (like Philadelphia), they could live largely untouched by the threat of removal. Despite this fact, the district court judge held:

Criminal law is integral to immigration law, specifying classes of noncitizens for high risk of removal, dictating procedures for detaining particular individuals pending removal proceedings, and defining who falls within the federal government's priorities for immigration law enforcement. However, immigration law does not impact the criminal justice system.

Immigration law has nothing to do with the enforcement of local criminal laws. As the record has established, this is absolutely the case in Philadelphia. ... While federal immigration law officials care deeply about local criminal law outcomes, it simply is not the case that local criminal justice actors in Philadelphia care about federal immigration laws.


As already discussed, the fact that immigration enforcement depends on and is deeply impacted by criminal law enforcement does not mean that the pursuit of criminal justice in any way relies on the enforcement of immigration law. Realistically, it does not. (Emphasis added.)

To be fair to the judge, while DOJ offered the declaration of Jim Brown, deputy assistant director of enforcement of ICE, setting forth "several reasons why ICE desires to have immigrant status information provided by state and local governments", the department declined to present Deputy Assistant Director Brown "for live testimony and cross-examination, and the court therefore [gave] low weight to his declaration." The contents of that statement are not clear from the record, and thus I do not know whether he made these or similar points. But he should have.

Not to be maudlin or tendentious, but the blanket that Philadelphia wraps around its illegal population is the same blanket that is pulled over the heads of the innocent victims in Matamoros, and that ironically shrouds the bodies of the overdose victims in the "City of Brotherly Love".

And the vicious circle, controlled by the TCOs, continues.