D.C. Council Votes to Impede Immigration Enforcement: In Stunning Rebuff, Federal Government Snubs Itself

By W.D. Reasoner on August 29, 2012

Kind of a funny, ironic headline, no? A bit less funny when you begin to realize that it's basically true.

Last month, by unanimous vote, the City Council of the District of Columbia — a uniquely federal enclave — approved a bill that will limit the ability of the federal government to enforce immigration laws by narrowing the conditions in which arrested aliens can be held in the custody of local police at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The nation's capital joined a handful of localities enacting similar sanctuary policies for criminal aliens and whose leaders object to the federal Secure Communities program, which alerts ICE when non-citizens are arrested by local authorities through the sharing of fingerprints. (Federal immigration enforcement agencies, including ICE, fall under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.)

The D.C. law stipulates that only those who have been previously convicted of a dangerous crime may be held for ICE, for up to 24 hours (as opposed to the 48 hours stipulated by federal law), and only if ICE agrees to pay for the extra day of incarceration. The result is that the D.C. police will be forced to release perhaps as many as three-fourths of the removable aliens identified under Secure Communities because they have not yet been convicted of (as opposed to "arrested for") a "dangerous" crime. This would include many repeat immigration violators and also chronic misdemeanants. Not only does this law obstruct ICE from doing its job, it enables these illegal aliens to carry on with their criminal activity in the D.C. metropolitan area and beyond.

"What!" you say, "How could they do that?" Good question. Darned if I know. The thing is, the District of Columbia operates under a federal law passed in 1973 that provides for limited home rule. That law provides that D.C. officials (including the Council, which has chosen to thumb its nose at federal immigration law enforcement) serve at the pleasure of the Congress. They may be recalled, or their positions dissolved. What's more, any local ordinances are subject to being overturned by Congress.

So for about six weeks now, I've held my breath waiting to see what Congress will do. I'm starting to turn blue, and have decided to let my autonomic motor functions take back over. Apparently, Congress plans to do nothing, even at this outrageous display. Do you wonder why their approval ratings are so abysmally low?

Perhaps it's the politics in an election year. After all, the House is Republican-controlled and the Senate, Democratic, so they're almost inevitably at loggerheads about most everything.

Even so, it seems to me that the right thing for the House committee with responsibility for oversight of the District of Columbia (the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) to do is to pass legislation nullifying the Council's ordinance and permit federal immigration authorities to do their job. It would put their counterpart Senate Committee into an interesting bind.

Any idea which committee that might be? Wait for it … why, it's the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs!