Sample Op-Ed: Off Target Report and DHS Priorities

In August 2011, AILA released a report, Immigration Enforcement Off Target: Minor Offenses with Major Consequences, highlighting cases submitted by members wherein local law enforcement questioned individuals about their immigration status. Use this sample op-ed in your local paper to explain the disconnect between DHS's stated policies and the reality on the ground.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has warned that federal immigration enforcement priorities will be taken off track by individual state laws requiring police to check the immigration status of people on the streets. In briefs challenging Alabama's "show-me-your-papers" law, DOJ states that federal officers will be compelled "to address the work that Alabama will now create for it-verification of individuals who are caught driving without a license or jaywalking."

Bravo, one might say. However, another federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seems to have missed that message. On its own, without any state "papers" laws in effect, DHS is pushing tens of thousands of low-priority immigrants through its deportation machinery.

A report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has found that frequent referrals from state and local police are causing federal immigration officials to deport many people who pose no threat to public safety or our national security. In one case, an elderly man was taken into police custody after the car his son was driving was pulled over for having a broken turn signal. The man committed no crime, but the police asked him for identification and then reported him to immigration officials - and though the man had no criminal history, DHS incarcerated and then sought to deport him. AILA's report describes 127 similar cases involving people stopped by police for sitting on subway steps, having a broken tail-light or other trivial infractions. What's worse is that the police stopped many for no offense at all - people walking down the street, changing a flat tire or just looking "foreign" were turned over to DHS. The cases in the AILA report represent just a snapshot of the thousands of individuals who have been deported as a result of contact first with local police and later DHS.

Should federal agents be responding to calls in these kinds of cases? When federal agents deport harmless people in response to police requests, they are diverging from DHS's primary mission of keeping Americans safe. "[T]he federal government will be required to divert resources from its own, carefully considered enforcement … priorities-aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety," DOJ wrote in the Alabama case. Earlier this year, DOJ lawyers also challenged an Arizona law for compelling federal officers to verify the immigration status of "any and all suspected aliens without regard to dangerousness," and thereby leaving less time for federal agents to "provide timely responses … on serious criminal aliens."

By DHS's own statements, the agency's resources would be better spent pursuing individuals who pose a danger to our communities or our national security. John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within DHS, acknowledged that limited resources must be used to "promote the agency's highest enforcement priorities, namely national security, public safety, and border security." Why then are federal immigration agents pursuing thousands of undocumented people who should be low on the priority list?

Should the laws passed in Arizona and Alabama go into effect, they would distort federal enforcement even further. But DHS is already doing that. DHS needs to push the "reset button" to make sure it's not wasting finite resources going after people who pose no threat to our communities.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 11081836.