For decades liberal municipalities have enacted “sanctuary” programs for “undocumented residents.” These programs seek to offer illegal immigrants a safe haven on our shores; to prevent health problems form escalating in the immigrant communities, provide government services, ensure that illegals are not afraid to call police when a crime occurs and to provide refuge to those fleeing oppressive conditions in their native countries.
Often informal understandings between the local immigrant community and the municipalities, sanctuary policies have at times been codified to block civil servants from reporting illegal immigrants to federal immigration law enforcement authorities unless a major crime has occurred. In 1996, Congress passed a law excluding public servants from local sanctuary regulations that prevent them from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Courts have upheld this law, forcing some of these localities to come in line and allow cooperation. But that has not stopped many liberal municipal governments from continuing to adopt the policies, which require public servants to break federal law.
Already these policies have caused major public safety problems:
* John Lee Malvo, the 16-year-old apprentice sniper that terrified the Washington, D.C.-area, had been stopped but not detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington State, where he had been briefly questioned by local authorities, has a sanctuary policy backed by widespread local political support for not actively pursuing illegal immigration.
* David Montiel Cruz, an illegal immigrant who kidnapped a nine year-old girl in San Jose, Calif. in June, had been arrested by police for auto theft and was found using multiple aliases. His illegal status was known to local law enforcement, but San Jose has an official policy barring city workers from questioning the immigration status of those they come into contact with. Immigration expert and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin found that “according to the San Jose Police Department's official policy manual, officers may not ‘initiate police action when the primary objective is directed towards discovering the alien status of a person.’” This standing policy is seen by many to be partly responsible for allowing these horrors to occur.
* In Houston, Texas, Walter Alexander Sorto, ticketed several times for traffic violations, stands accused of the abduction, rape and murder of three women. Frustrated Houston police contend the city’s liberal “Don't ask, Don't tell” rules that bar them from inquiring about immigration status allowed him to remain on the streets. A 13-year-old girl, Laura Ayala was abducted just days after Sorto had been charged with failure to appear in court; no arrest had been made. Recent blood evidence has linked him to her disappearance in addition to the slayings he and his associates had already been accused of. Despite this tragedy and the federal statute that clearly nullifies the local ordinance, Houston officials are still defending this policy. John Leggio, the police chief’s spokesman told The Houston Chronicle that “It is our belief that our policy is in compliance with the law.”
* In New York City, the December 2002, rape of a woman in a Queens park could easily have been averted. According to reports four of five homeless men charged in that attack were in the country illegally. Three of them had been arrested by the New York Police Department before, but were later released instead of being turned over to federal authorities. The woman who was raped has recently filed a lawsuit against the city for allowing the homeless to live in a “shanty town”. The case is still pending. Until recently, New York City had an institutional policy against turning over illegals’ information to the federal government.
Immigration reform crusader Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told Frontpagemag.com these incidents were just examples of “what is happening all over the country,” but expressed frustration that “there is no political will” to enforce federal law and repeal sanctuary policies.
Since 9/11 proponents of both sides have begun to take firmer stands and what had long been an underground battle has come into the public arena. Shortly after the catastrophic tragedy to his own city, New York’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg reaffirmed the sanctuary policies, saying, “People who are undocumented do not have to worry about city government going to the federal government.”
However, New York’s policy was challenged in court, leading Bloomberg to reluctantly overturn the sanctuary policy after it had been found unlawful. On June 6th, the mayor repealed the 25-year-old policy.
Unfortunately the ruling has not stopped some liberal cities from continuing the practice, which Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said “satisfies the elite,” but “limits the ability” of law enforcement “to detect terrorist cells early.”
The same week Bloomberg was bringing his city in line with the federal statutes; city council members in Portland, Maine, passed a resolution banning police and other city employees from asking the immigration status of persons they come into contact with unless they are determined to be a suspect in a major crime, have been previously deported, or deemed a threat to national security. Simple violation of immigration law does not fall within these guidelines, which, in and of themselves, violate the 1996 federal law.
Portland’s policy—which is similar to ones already in place in cities like San Jose, Houston, Miami, Denver and San Francisco—enjoyed active support from immigrant activists as well as local police. Supporters claimed that it would not have prevented the 9/11 hijackers, emphasizing instead the need for establishing trust between the growing Somali refugee community and the local police.
The resulting chaos and lawlessness that comes from having over 10 million illegals within U.S. borders easily eclipses any validity to the politically correct arguments proffered by liberal sanctuary policy supporters. The difficulty federal immigration enforcement authorities have in finding and dealing with this burgeoning illegal population is severely exacerbated by radically left local governments that flout federal law and refuse to allow taxpayer-funded public servants assist in realistically addressing the growing epidemic.
Maine, which boarders Canada—a country known as a possible gateway for terrorists seeking entry to the States—stands as one of the first lines of defense. Jonette Christian from Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy told The Portland Press Herald that “the ordinance defies common sense and jeopardizes national security. At a time when homeland security is justifiably a top concern for our nation, Border States like ours should be cooperating fully with the federal government to enforce our nation's immigration laws.”
Yet concern at the federal level appears ambiguous at best. Chris Bentley, spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE—formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) under the Department of Homeland Security remarked on sanctuary policies to Frontpagemag.com saying:
“City governments determine their employees’ conduct during the course of their official work. That includes determining what questions an employee can or cannot ask. In a post 9-11 world, it's obviously beneficial for us to get assistance from local authorities regarding individuals in this country illegally, especially if these individuals have committed crimes. Information is one of the keys to enhancing homeland security. We are hopeful that local governments will work with us towards the goal of security.”
FILE (Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement), a “D.C.-based association of attorneys, researchers, law enforcement officers, legislators, and other experts working on behalf of Americans to ensure that immigration law is being enforced” disagree. Spokesman Craig Nelson said that the Portland resolution “clearly contradicts case law.” He says that the statement by BICE is “disturbing to say the least” and that Bentley, “doesn’t seem to understand the (legal) precedent and has no business making such a comment.
“Obviously such policies hinder the ability of law enforcement to protect Americans against crime by those in the country illegally and undermines the effort to prevent terrorism,” Nelson said.
Public opinion stands in diametric opposition to sanctuary policies. A recent Roper survey showed 88% of Americans agree that law enforcement should report any illegal aliens to immigration officials. Nelson is heartened by the repeal of the New York policy but says it is unfortunate that “there are a few ideologues who won't endorse common sense law enforcement in regards to immigration. Luckily the law, the courts and public opinion do not agree with them.”
Some pro-sanctuary advocates base their convictions on what they perceive as an overzealous persecution of their constituency. Citing the recently leaked internal Justice Department report on the detention of illegal immigrants as reason for not cooperating with immigration officials, they oppose the Justice Department's PATRIOT Act. They contend that the report revealed that a majority of the detainees had no known ties to terrorist groups, whatever their legal status.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a New York based non-profit public interest group seeking “common sense immigration reform” in a June 10th press release expressed support for the PATRIOT Act, insisting the internal Justice report showed the great need for enforcement of immigration laws. “What ought to concern people is not that the Justice Department detained this particular group of illegal aliens from countries that support terrorism, but rather how few people who break our immigration laws are ever detained, much less repatriated to their homelands,” said FAIR executive director Dan Stein.
In October 2002, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, addressing the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Billings Montana, said “We must use all lawful means to prevent terrorism. There are no second chances.” He assured the chiefs that federal agents will investigate any cases brought to their attention by local law enforcement. Citing arrests of suspected terrorists in New York State and Oregon based on tips from local police, he expressed hope that an atmosphere of cooperation would help improve Homeland Security's efforts to protect the nation. Ashcroft described the current war on terrorism as a “unique time in history” that requires a “sustained effort to find an enemy that can be hiding within our borders”
The need for such cooperation is great. Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers was stopped and ticketed for driving without a license in Florida in early 2001, his visa was expired at the time. One of his accomplices, Ziad Samir Jarrah, the Lebanese citizen suspected of piloting United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, was pulled over on Sept 9th by Maryland state troopers for speeding in a rental car. He was ticketed and sent on his way.
Although in times past, police who did attempt to cooperate with federal immigration agents were often met with a frustrating level of indifference. Many times they were instructed to simply let the illegals go. Typically resources and funding are inadequate to meet the federal guidelines for holding immigrants based on current mandates.
However some meager steps are being taken to address these problems. According to Homeland Security officials, a national database of immigrants containing their immigration status and have criminal records is being offered to the police to help increase the flow of information and cooperation. More funding in the way of Homeland Security appropriations has been made available and the Department of Justice is revamping the rules for local law enforcement to follow in the apprehension and detention of illegals.Progress is being made but is hindered when leftist advocates cling to sanctuary policies. These left-wing ideologues seek to impose their radical agenda at the expense of national security and in violation of the rule of law. Police and other civil servants cannot and should not be restricted from reporting any information they have to the proper authorities as required by federal law, regardless of the “feel-good” intent of a handful of radical lawmakers. But until outrage among the general population reaches a critical mass, politicians will continue to pander to special interests and put votes ahead of national sovereignty - and national security.