Better SAFE than Sorry

By W.D. Reasoner on July 17, 2013

Note: This is the first of several blogs on the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, an immigration bill pending in the House of Representatives as H.R.2278. This blog reflects on those aspects of the bill that encourage cooperation among and between the federal, state, and local governments where their interlocking responsibilities are concerned.

In late June, the Senate passed S.744, its version of "comprehensive immigration reform", a bill whose immigration enforcement and border security provisions are nearly all eviscerated by the fine print (see, for instance, "Must-Read Articles on the Schumer-Rubio Bill"), and whose signal accomplishment would be to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, permitting them to remain in the United States whether or not the enforcement "benchmarks" of the bill were actually ever met.

Wisely, the House of Representatives has shown itself unwilling to act as a second-chamber rubber stamp for S.744. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has expressed a commitment to ensure that any bill brought to a vote in the House includes not just reform of the legal immigration system and at our porous land borders, but also, significantly, through interior enforcement efforts.

This measured approach would well serve the American people. Close to half of the roughly 11 million illegal aliens in the United States right now initially entered legally through our land, sea, and air ports of entry and then simply overstayed their authorized period of admission, melted into the interior, and began taking jobs they were not entitled to — often by means of identity theft, misappropriating the names and Social Security numbers of citizens and lawful residents.

Any legislation that does not honestly and substantively tackle interior immigration enforcement, especially in our major metropolitan areas (and the Senate's effort did not), is destined to failure.

One bill that makes an excellent start is the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act (H.R.2278), introduced into the House by Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). As legislation goes, it is refreshingly straightforward and easy to read: what you see is what you get. That stands in stark contrast to the Senate bill, which was replete with deceptions large and small masquerading as immigration enforcement.

Another desirable feature of the bill is its recognition that immigration is affecting communities large and small across this country and, because of that, like it or not, all levels of government have a role to play in responsibly addressing the phenomenon. It's no secret that in the past few years, immigration has caused a fissure — some might say a chasm — between the federal government on one hand, and state and local governments on the other.

Those state and local governments wishing to take a hand in controlling the adverse impact illegal immigration has had on their limited police, health, fire, emergency, and social service resources got stiff-armed by the federal government in a big way, and faced a barrage of lawsuits when they attempted to assist or establish laws addressing the impact.

On the flip side, the federal government has also been stiff-armed by a variety of state and municipal sanctuary laws, policies, and procedures whose sole purpose seems to be to impede Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers' efforts to get a handle on alien criminals encountered by state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and judicial systems, even while most of those self-same states, counties, and cities hold their hands out to receive State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funds mounting to millions of dollars.

The SAFE Act tackles this atmosphere of mutual distrust and recrimination head-on. Title I of the bill institutionalizes cooperation between ICE and local LEAs, and requires them to work together:

  • State and local LEAs must, without exception, provide ICE with information on individuals booked into their systems as criminals who may be aliens. State and local governments may also apply for grants to assist them in obtaining technology that will facilitate information and biometrics data transfer. ICE on the other hand, must provide state and local LEAs access to general databases that will allow them to expeditiously identify individuals as removable alien criminals.

  • ICE must take custody of removable aliens when requested to do so by those LEAs having custody. The LEAs, on the other hand, must honor ICE detainers to hold the individuals for a reasonable period of time so that ICE can make transportation arrangements for the pick-up.

  • ICE, and state and local governments, are encouraged to come to mutually acceptable and beneficial agreements in which state and local jails meeting U.S. Marshals Service standards may detain aliens on ICE's behalf, and state and local LEAs may transport aliens on behalf of ICE, in return for which they will be reimbursed.

  • The bill restores the integrity of the 287(g) partnership program permitting state and local LEAs to enforce immigration laws under appropriate federal oversight, by eliminating the politics from decisions as to which LEAs may participate and for what purpose. Those LEAs must abide by the rules and standards, but ICE must articulate specific reasons for denying a request to participate or for ejecting program participants, and denied or ejected LEAs would have the right to appeal in an administrative hearing. The Obama administration has eliminated dozens of these programs at the behest of advocacy groups, despite the absence of proven abuse of authority or evidence of ineffectiveness.

These are just a few of the highlights where federal, state, and local cooperation are concerned. Ultimately, the mature approach adopted by H.R.2278 — which is long overdue — will benefit all parties by minimizing the friction points and establishing limits and expectations for both sides in an unambiguous way.

This bill has the potential to push the reset button on federal versus state/local relations, at least where immigration enforcement is concerned. Is it perfect? No, but it comes pretty darned close.