By W.D. Reasoner on July 22, 2013

The "Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act", an immigration bill pending in the House of Representatives as H.R. 2278, is a modern marvel of legislative honesty and symmetry: it means what it says, and says what it means.

As discussed previously, the bill requires cooperation with federal immigration authorities from state and local law enforcement; and equally requires cooperation from those federal authorities with state and local law enforcement efforts.

It also fills in gaps between the law enforcement and criminal justice systems of the different levels of government so that alien criminals, such as serial rapist Cesar Benitez, will not be released, whether purposely or inadvertently, to further terrorize their communities.

But the bill goes even further: It provides a legal baseline that clearly establishes federal supremacy in creating uniform immigration standards, while acknowledging the right of state and local governments to establish laws and ordinances appropriate for their respective jurisdictions within those standards, free from the threat of onerous, costly, and unnecessary lawsuits filed against them by the federal government or anti-enforcement advocacy groups such as the ACLU and the National Day Labor Organizing Network.

For instance, Section 102 of the bill states, in pertinent part, that states and their political subdivisions:

  • May enact, implement, and enforce criminal penalties that penalize the same conduct prohibited by federal immigration laws as long as the criminal penalties don't exceed the relevant federal criminal penalties; and

  • May enact, implement, and enforce civil penalties for the same conduct prohibited in the civil violations of immigration laws;

And that the law enforcement personnel of a state or political subdivision:

  • May investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to federal custody aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States to the same extent as federal law enforcement personnel; and

  • May also investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, or detain aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of a state or of a political subdivision of a state, as long as those immigration laws are permissible under Section 102.

Section 102 does, however, prohibit state and local law enforcement personnel from removing aliens from the United States, in order to ensure that the bright line between federal, versus state or local, responsibilities is maintained. This is the reason that transfer of custody from state or local agencies to the federal government is mandated elsewhere in the bill. Such a transfer permits aliens to avail themselves of whatever due process of law is required and permitted in the context of deportation proceedings, or applications for relief from removal.

An additional provision of the bill, Section 114, puts teeth into the language of Section 102. It states that any state or political subdivision that puts into effect a statute, policy, or practice prohibiting its officers from assisting or cooperating with federal immigration law enforcement will be ineligible to receive a variety of Department of Justice or Homeland Security law enforcement grants, and requires the Attorney General and Homeland Security Secretary to determine annually, and report on, which states or political subdivisions are not in compliance.

In contrast, the comprehensive Schumer-Rubio bill passed by the Senate deliberately undermines state immigration laws, and some state laws against criminal gang activity, by allowing those with convictions under these laws to be legalized or receive visas. In addition, this bill specifically directs the federal government to allow sanctuary jurisdictions to receive certain federal payouts.

I am sure that opponents of the bill and, more generally, of immigration law enforcement efforts, will be vigorous in their opposition to these provisions. They assert that immigration law is too complicated for state and local cops to enforce, and/or that doing so will result in inappropriate stops or profiling. But that's a stalking horse and nothing more:

First, it presupposes that the laws state and local officers enforce are somehow simplistic, a presumption that just doesn't stand up to the light of day. Second, it seems to imply that they are somehow mentally incapable of grasping the complexities of immigration law. I doubt that. As a whole, federal immigration officers are no more nor less smart than local cops, and they figure it out. With training and oversight, state and local police will, too.

As Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the bill's sponsor, has observed, local officers are trusted on a daily basis to enforce laws against murder, rape, criminal gang activity, domestic violence, and drug dealing; why should they not be trusted to arrest individuals for immigration violations?

It's time for the common-sense approach laid out in the SAFE Act to become law. No longer will state or local governments be permitted to go their own way and actively obstruct enforcement of the immigration laws while claiming that they have no responsibility to assist. And no longer will the federal government be able to claim it must take a "go it alone" approach when the realities of today's interconnected governmental responsibilities make it clear that they cannot and should not.