BY DIANE DIMOND
Laws are a necessary evil in civilized society. You obey the laws, and the government will do its best to protect you and yours. But what happens when there’s a conflict between a state and a federal law?
That is the situation across America today. So far, California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont, along with dozens of cities and counties, are on record as being safe spaces — places of sanctuary — for those who have entered the country illegally. They are all ignoring federal immigration laws.
Those in favor of the sanctuary city idea seem to embrace the old adage “Two wrongs make a right.” They have been upset with the country’s immigration policies for years now. They feel the Trump administration’s declaration that sanctuary cities are “violating the law” is wrongheaded and, therefore, that their own disregard for existing immigration law is justified. They believe America should open its arms to immigrants, not slam the door in their faces.
However, it is time to acknowledge that not all people who live in the U.S. illegally are created equal. Yes, there are people who came here desperately seeking a better, safer future for their family and have lived exemplary lives. And then there are those who entered the U.S. illegally and committed heinous crimes against American citizens. Let’s focus on the latter group.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents want to keep track of those who’ve been arrested on local criminal charges. They frequently issue what’s called an “immigration detainer,” a formal request to be alerted when “criminal aliens” (as the White House calls them) are about to be released from local custody. That way, they can move in and decide on possible deportation. But officials in sanctuary cities are ignoring the detainer requests and allowing these noncitizen criminals to simply walk out the jailhouse door.
Look, it’s obvious we need major immigration reform, and I support several ideas for change, like the adoption of the Dream Act that would allow the undocumented who were brought here as children a path to citizenship or permanent legal residency. But it is not time to change the idea behind getting rid of the criminal element that enters our country illegally. Those locations that ignore federal detainer orders do so at their peril. And they put all of us in harm’s way.
By now, you’ve likely heard about Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who had been deported from the U.S. five times before he re-entered illegally again in 2015 and shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco (a sanctuary city). He declared that it was an accidental shooting, and he was recently found not guilty of that murder. Federal authorities have now stepped in and charged Zarate with both immigration and gun violations. Too little too late for the family of Steinle, who was simply out for a stroll with her father when she was gunned down.
I have written in this space about the situation in Connecticut, a state in which a growing number of localities are currently considering laws to protect undocumented immigrants or have already passed such laws. Perhaps they forget that back in 2015, Haitian immigrant Jean Jacques was released from a Connecticut prison after serving a 17-year sentence for attempted murder. He was not deported as convicts are supposed to be, and six months later he murdered 24-year-old Casey Chadwick.
These are only two examples of immigrants who have committed felony crimes while on U.S. soil. Space does not permit the entire long list. So, remind me again: How are sanctuary cities helping Americans stay safe?
I understand that those in favor of defying federal immigration actions do so with altruistic motives. They offer heartfelt pleas on behalf of those who have been living peacefully in the U.S. for years and those families that might be torn apart by application of the law. They remind us that America was built on the backs of hardworking immigrants who came from every corner of the globe.
Let’s also remember that those who helped build America came here through an orderly and legal process. And it has been this country’s long-standing policy to deport those immigrants who are convicted of serious crimes like rape, murder, aggravated assault, drug trafficking and sex trafficking. Former President Obama supported this idea as well.
Truth be told, we have ignored our immigration-policy problems for so long that we’ve backed ourselves into a legal corner. By some counts, there are now more than 600 jurisdictions across the country that have approved some sort of sanctuary policy, yet that term has no technical or legal definition and isn’t mentioned in any section of the U.S. Code.
It’s long past time for politicians to revamp and update our immigration policies, but I’m not holding my breath. At the very least, every jurisdiction needs to recognize those immigration detainer requests as necessary to keep Americans safe. It’s time to put every one of those who have proved to be unworthy of living here on a plane back to their home country.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net