Gung Ho Isn’t Always The Way To Go

So, some ICE agents are saying that under the slackening of requirements for detentions the job is fun again?  This raises some serious questions about law enforcement in this country, the most significant of which may be: Is a person innocent until proven guilty? Or, is an immigrant guilty until he or she can “show papers?” There’s a related tangential question as well: Do we detain individuals on a selective basis, or do we round up greater numbers and risk “collateral” damage to those who have committed no felonious acts?

The Obama Administration focused on arresting, detaining, and deporting the very individuals the current administration says it is focused on — criminals engaged in felonious activities.  However, the “unshackling” appears to have emboldened some agents to engage in behaviors that sound more like the directive given by Arnaud Almaric, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” (Kill them all; let God sort them out.)

The anti-immigration rejoinder is often “they’ve all broken the law by being here,” and “we’re just enforcing what is already on the books.”  These generalities require closer inspection.  The first offense under 8 US Code 1325 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a possible jail sentence of less than one year.  It is not until there is  subsequent unlawful entry that the punishment reaches felony level.  Some of the more vocal anti-immigrant voices may want to refer to 8 US Code 1227 which outlines deport-able offenses. In light of at least one recent detention, it should be noted that there are waiver provisions for victims of domestic violence. Thus, the current administration has a decision to make.

Is it the policy of the administration to round up and deport all those who are not authorized to be in this country? Or, is it the policy to detain and deport those who have committed felonious acts while residing here without authorization?  The actions of ICE agents seem to reflect the former, while the words coming our of the White House appear to be consistent with the latter.

Removing the “bad dudes” from our midst doesn’t look all that compatible with reports of:

  • ICE agents removing a Salvadoran brain tumor victim from a hospital and placing her in detention.
  • ICE agents detaining a victim of domestic violence who had gone to court to seek assistance, on a tip possibly coming from her abuser.

What is different from the enforcement procedures of the Obama Administration is that these incidents are more likely to occur because the requests for “collateral” arrests from ICE agents is now closer to being standard operating procedure. A 2011 memorandum restrains agents from making arrests in sensitive areas — churches, schools, etc. But, the problem, of course, is that under current guidelines ICE could use those areas as targets, lending unwarranted credence to the rumor mills.  Coordinated raids and collateral arrests are not something commonly witnessed during the Obama Administration, while the current administration could likely to utilize those processes.

Collateral arrests create collateral damage.  Some rumors of detentions at schools or other public places proved to be incorrect, but the more the agency uses large scale raids and arrests ‘collateral’ suspects, the less cooperation there is likely to be from members of the community when it comes to detaining and deporting those truly worthy of being deported.

A second unfortunate prospect is that local police forces, already stretched and strained by hiring limitations imposed by budget restraints, will find themselves asked to play additional roles in federal enforcement, adding logistical issues to the possibility of less local community cooperation on other matters.

Until there is more clarity, and far less bombast, from the administration on the extent and justification for collateral arrests the situation may continue to be ripe for rumor mills, and fears among immigrant communities that “papers please” will be injudiciously applied to anyone fitting a “profile” including legal residents and US citizens.

Collateral arrests may also have unintended economic consequences, in agriculture, in tourism, in restaurants, and in real estate. In short, the old saw “Be Careful What You Wish For” may be applicable in this instance.  Short term gains for political grandstanding purposes could transform into long term losses for several sectors of the US economy.

Gung Ho may be popular with some rank and file ICE employees, but it may very well prove to be the sort of gloss that corrodes the underlying credibility of the agency in the long run.  There need to be some adults in the room as we have this discussion, some adults who can reach compromise positions on comprehensive immigration policy reform, and can curtail some of the excesses of the advocates for collateral arrests.

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